By Rachel Hall, reporting for Bluebonnet News
There has not been a death-free day on a Texas highway since Nov. 7, 2000, according to Texas Department of Transportation Commissioner Jeff Austin III, who spoke at the Greater Cleveland Area Chamber of Commerce’s luncheon on July 11.
“We have a shared responsibility in teaching safety,” explained Austin. “We are adding funding for safety projects, because it is desperately needed.”
The state will continue campaigns against distracted driving, as well as “Click It or Ticket,” and “Turn Around. Don’t Drown.”
“The majority of deaths is people still not wearing seatbelts,” he said.
The community also has a shared responsibility in keeping roadways clean and teaching youth how to properly dispose of trash, according to Austin, adding that the state spent $35 million in trash pick-up last year.
Every dollar spent picking up litter is money that could have been used for road and bridge projects instead.
“We are behind in funding a lot of our roads,” said Austin. “We do need some additional funding from the feds. Texas gets back about 80 cents per one dollar paid in.”
Waiting for federal funding to move forward with construction projects, however, would leave some of the projects untouched for a lifetime.
“Texas will be innovative and we will find ways through private partnerships to keep projects moving forward,” he noted.
Austin addressed the I-69 project currently underway in the local area with orange cones up both south and north of Cleveland.
“We are hitting these projects when we have funding, even if they have to skip bits and pieces of road to get it up to interstate standards,” he said.
The I-69 corridor has been deemed a very important project with other states watching how Texas handles its progress and any setbacks entailed, as it will be moving many goods and services between three countries – Mexico, United States, and Canada.
Projects, such as the I-69 corridor, are selected for funding through a ranking system, scoring system, and other factors taken into consideration such as economic development and hurricane evacuation routes.
“We see a lot of projects that are worthy projects, but we are going to take a look at the ones that are ready to go. Setting priorities locally is key to funding a project,” said Austin.
TxDOT maintains 53,000 bridges and approximately 190,000 lane miles in the state. It does not maintain county roads.
For more information about the I-69 corridor, visit www.dot.state.tx.us/drivenbytexans/
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