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As highway traffic plummets, new road construction funds in doubt

Transactions on Dallas North Tollway fall by 47% as Americans cut their driving time in half

DALLAS — Notice how long your tank of gas is lasting while staying at home? The Texas Department of Transportation sure does.

Highway construction and maintenance are funded, in part, by taxes on gasoline. And when we're not driving, we're not buying gasoline.

According to the traffic data firm INRIX, personal travel has been dropping every week and it's now down 47%.

TxDOT says it is "...ensuring current projects move forward." But because of COVID-19, the trade association that represents state highway departments — like TxDOT — projects a 30% decline in tax revenue over the next 18 months.

Jim Tymon runs the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.

“There are thousands of people that rely on these good-paying jobs to be able to support their families. If the revenue isn't there, then those jobs won't be there for those road builders,” Tymon said.

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The North Texas Tollway Authority is supported by tolls, not taxes. And look what's going on with the Dallas North Tollway. For the week of March 22-28, the last full week of the month, the volume of toll transactions was down 47%. Overall, the NTTA system was down 28% in March and trending lower.

That's a problem because the NTTA is carrying $9 billion dollars of debt and uses toll revenue to pay it back.

This week, the Highway Association wrote to leaders in Congress asking for $50 billion dollars of relief for state highway departments.

“You're in the elevator with [Speaker of the House] Nancy Pelosi and you have 15 seconds to make your pitch on this, what is it?” I asked Tymons.

“That if congress doesn't step in and backfill this revenue loss we're seeing at a state level, you're going to see a real reduction in jobs both in the private sector, as well as in the public sector,” he said.

Congress has already provided relief to public transit, airports and airlines. Transportation groups hope they will be next, as Congress considers more emergency legislation.

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