Data visualizations Gas taxes Laws and policies Roads Transit
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When you look at how much Texas drivers hand over to Washington and how much comes back, it’s easy to feel like the feds don’t like us much.
Federal officials do not “directly” return a whopping 78 percent of fuel and vehicle taxes collected in Texas. That’s second highest among states; behind Iowa with its 84% bye-bye rate and well ahead of third-place Florida.
Unfortunately, though, there’s a bigger untold story here. Officials invested more than half of those collections into projects straddling one or more states. And the data doesn’t show how those amounts were distributed among states.
So the 78% no-return likely isn’t as bad as it looks. Texas probably received more. Still, hover over the interactive map below and you’ll see a wide range of give and take, including Alaska’s 60 percent gain.
When are drivers likely to lose their cool, to the point of rage?
I figured the hours after bars closed on weekends were the hot times. But that’s not true, according to a state road-rage database obtained by the Express-News.
I put together an online dashboard to query the database, which is hosted as a Google Fusion Table. It’s a great way to get a quick snapshot of layered filters, such as age, gender, ethnicity, days, times, etc.
Try it out below. For convenient side-by-side comparisons, click the “Compare Two Views” button under the dashboard.
I gleaned a few interesting insights myself.
Usually, when a road is riddled with potholes, the solution is to patch or repave.
But in South Texas, where big trucks servicing the state’s latest oil boom are pulverizing pavement, the state’s answer is to tear up the asphalt and return the roads to gravel. Posted speed limits then have to drop from 55 mph to 30.
While the gas and oil boom is boosting state revenues by some billion dollars a year, the Texas Department of Transportation still largely relies on a two-decade old gas tax that inflation has cut in half. Lawmakers just can’t find the gumption to raise the tax, and don’t sound confident about other possibilities.
With the Legislature going into a special session to tackle the problem, KLRN TV’s Rick Casey lays out the issues in this 4-minute video. Here’s the text.
Construction and closures Roads: Ballenger I-10 Texas Department of Transportation Wurzbach Parkway
After the bankruptcy of Ballenger Construction late last year, several TxDOT and COSA projects were lain dormant. The good news is that their bonding company is nearing the end of the process to hire new contractors to get those projects finished. Work should be starting next month again on the I-10 project (Ramsgate to Loop 1604) and the “bookends” of the Wurzbach Parkway project. I’m not as familiar with the COSA projects, but I hear the Hunt Lane project should also have a new contractor by this time next month.
Laws and policies Roads Safety: Speed limits Texas Department of Transportation
The Texas Transportation Commission approved increasing the speed limit to 75 mph on about 1,500 miles of mostly-rural Interstate highways in the state. Around the San Antonio area, the following stretches will see 75 mph signs soon:
- I-10 West from Loop 1604 to past Kerrville (where it’s already 80 mph)
- I-10 East from just outside Loop 410 to Waller County west of Houston
- I-35 South from Palo Alto Rd. to the existing 75 mph section south of Devine
- I-37 from just inside Loop 410 to Corpus Christi
I-35 between San Antonio and Austin was not approved for the higher speed limit.
The Legislature approved the higher speed limits last year.
- TxDOT’s 75 mph page – http://www.txdot.gov/safety/speed_limit/75mph.htm
Roads Safety: Texas Department of Transportation US 281 wrong-way drivers
In San Antonio and across Texas, there has been a rash of wrong-way drivers (WWD) over the past few years. In San Antonio last year, there was a WWD about every other day. Fortunately, 80% of those drivers caused no accidents. But sadly, seven people were killed by WWDs last year. Of no surprise was that the majority of WWDs were intoxicated.
To combat the problem, several agencies formed the San Antonio Wrong Way Driver Task Force in March 2011. Those agencies include TxDOT, SAPD, City of San Antonio Public Works Department, Bexar County Sherrif’s Office, and Texas Transportation Institute, and the Federal Highway Administration. The task force worked to determine the extent and characteristics of the local problem, evaluate previous research and countermeasures, and formulate a plan to test and implement countermeasures locally.
Construction and closures Roads: Loop 1604 SH 151 superstreet
UPDATE (11/1/11) - The changeover has been postponed until Wednesday.
Just back from vacay and have some local news to report. The final element of the package of improvements along Loop 1604 West that included two superstreet intersections will come online tomorrow. Namely, the left turn from southbound 1604 to SH 151 will be eliminated. Motorists wanting to go to SH 151 will now exit at a new exit ramp just south of Culebra, follow the access road, then cross 1604 at a perpendicular signalized intersection. The existing entrance ramp from Culebra will be closed and replaced by an improved entrance ramp at the SH 151 intersection. (For a schematic of these changes, see the link under “Additional information” below.)
Like the superstreet intersections, this change will most likely seem completely unintuitive for many folks. After all, southbound Loop 1604 traffic will now have to stop to allow traffic to enter SH 151 whereas before they didn’t ever have to stop. But this new arrangement will actually be safer overall and will help reduce congestion in the area. more »
There was a whole lotta shakin’ goin’ on in the San Antonio area this morning as a 4.8 temblor struck about 50 miles southeast of the city, the largest on record for this part of the state.
The biggest quake around here before today’s was in 1993. Long-timers may remember that just a few days before that quake, inspectors had found some cracking in a pylon supporting the then-new upper deck of I-10 near Woodlawn. There was briefly some concern that the quake may have done additional damage. Fortunately, that wasn’t the case and the column was subsequently retrofitted with some additional tension rods.
I checked with the folks at TxDOT and they tell me that they sent inspectors out after today’s quake to look at the bridges on state highways in Atascosa County. Everything checked-out fine.
Construction and closures Roads: Loop 1604 stimulus funds Texas Department of Transportation Tommy Adkisson widening
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Local TxDOT officials joined with several dignitaries yesterday to cut the ribbon on a project that widened Loop 1604 near Randolph AFB. The 17 month, $6.6 million project upgraded 2.5 miles of Loop 1604 from a two-lane “farm” road to a four-lane divided highway. The project came in on-time and under budget.
Speakers at the ribbon-cutting included US Representative Henry Cuellar. Cuellar helped secure the federal economic stimulus funding to get the project off the ground.
This section of the loop has been in the news recently. A project to continue the expansion from its current terminus at Lower Seguin Road to I-10 is planned to start next year. However, county officials had briefly considered transferring funding from that project to construct the northern set of ramps at US 281 and Loop 1604. An alternative source of funding was found, however, thus allowing the widening project to continue as planned.
It’s worth noting that this expansion mirrors a similar expansion done on Loop 1604 West nearly two decades ago. Road improvements tend to be incremental or evolutionary. The road system San Antonio has today didn’t just drop out of the sky one day. The project dedicated yesterday upgraded a congested and dangerous two-lane road to a four-lane divided highway with traffic signals. This configuration is a substantial improvement over the previous road and is more than adequate for the current needs and for those in the foreseeable future, just as the expansion of Loop 1604 south of Braun Road was back in the ’90s. Will traffic growth eventually render this roadway obsolete? Maybe. But building a full-fledged expressway at this location now is unnecessary and would have been an injudicious use of scarce funding, just like doing so out on Loop 1604 West back in the ’90s would have been.
Roads: Gilbeau Road Loop 1604 Shaenfield Road superstreet
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The second of two superstreet intersections on Loop 1604 in San Antonio is slated to open tomorrow. The intersection at Shaenfield should be mostly online for motorists for tomorrow morning’s commute. There will still be some finish-up work continuing during the next few weeks, but the new traffic patterns will be in effect tomorrow morning. That means motorists coming from Shaenfield will no longer be able to turn left onto Loop 1604 northbound. Instead, everyone will turn right and those wanting to go north will then use a new turnaround about 1/4th of a mile downstream. Motorists wanting to turn left from Loop 1604 onto Shaenfield will still be able to do so using new dual left turn lanes.
If you’re observant, you’ll notice that there have also been left turn lanes built from southbound Loop 1604 that seem to go nowhere and a second turnaround north of Shaenfield that seems to serve no purpose. Those have been built in anticipation of a future extension of Shaenfield to the east. The City of San Antonio is currently in the planning stages for that.
The superstreet intersection at Loop 1604 and New Gilbeau opened about a month ago and has provided a noticeable reduction in congestion. The final element of the current package of improvements along that stretch of Loop 1604 will make changes the SH 151 intersection; it’s due to be completed later this year. An underpass for SH 151 at Loop 1604 is slated to begin construction next Spring.