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AUSTIN-- The current transportation system in Texas has been designed, built and centered around the automobile, and it is a public health disaster. A resolution, HJR 109 (Walle), being heard in Tuesday’s House Transportation Committee, would propose a constitutional amendment asking voters to approve expansion of what TxDOT is allowed to do with gas tax revenues. Currently, administrators’ hands are tied, with just one use approved: more roads. Advocates say the expansion would dramatically reshape our state for cleaner and safer mobility.
Pollution from cars, trucks and other vehicles cuts short an estimated 16,000 lives in Texas each year. Meanwhile, approximately 3,600 people die in vehicle crashes in Texas annually, while tens of thousands more are left severely injured. Yet each year, Americans drive more than 3.2 trillion miles – nearly 10,000 miles per person and more miles per capita than people almost anywhere else in the world.
“Our current transportation system is wreaking havoc on our health and the health of our planet,” said TexPIRG State Director Bay Scoggin. “Decades of car-centered investment strategies have left us with inefficient and dangerous transportation infrastructure. This resolution is exactly the forward-thinking pro-public interest strategy we need to give Texans more and better options to get around.”
Members of the Texas Friends of Transit coalition, which loosely collaborates on local and state transportation advocacy, joined in to voice their support.
“A strong majority of Texans want public transportation to be included alongside improving our roads to meet the diverse transportation needs of our growing state,” said Farm&City Executive Director Jay Blazek Crossley. “Texans are near unanimous in their desire to spend more on better sidewalks and safe routes for our kids to get to school, but current restrictions on funding are hindering TXDOT’s ability to build the transportation system Texans want.”
Some of the worst impacts of Texas’s car-centric transportation, recently documented in TexPIRG’s Transform Transportation report, are:
Pollution: Air and noise pollution have been shown to increase the risk of serious health conditions, including lung cancer, stroke, heart disease, asthma and dementia.
Traffic-related fatalities: In 2018, nearly 6,300 pedestrians and more than 800 cyclists were killed in traffic-related accidents, with more pedestrian and cyclist fatalities on the roads in 2018 than in any year since 1990.
Poor quality of life: People with long car commutes are at increased risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, high blood pressure and experience substantially higher levels of stress, including more negative moods and lower life satisfaction.
Climate change: The transportation sector is now the number one source of greenhouse gas emissions in the state and is the largest single contributor to the climate crisis.
Despite causing tremendous havoc and suffering, COVID-19 may have also provided an unexpected opportunity for Texans to reassess their transportation habits. As lockdowns kicked in across the country, a record decline in driving has been accompanied by an increase in people walking, cycling and choosing other active modes of transportation.
The environmental impacts of this decline in driving were evident almost immediately. By mid-April, at the height of lockdown, daily carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S. were down by around one-third. Without realizing it, Americans had embarked on a transportation experiment on a previously inconceivable scale.
Texas Friends of Transit is a statewide coalition of pro-transit advocacy organizations and community groups working to improve our transit systems and bring balanced funding strategies that meet our public transportation needs. The coalition includes groups such as: TexPIRG, Tarrant Transit Alliance, Farm&City, and LINK Houston.
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