As civil engineers in the state of Texas, we have a responsibility to safeguard the life, health, property, and welfare of the public. We believe part of this responsibility includes providing the public and our elected leaders with critical information about the current state of our infrastructure. This is the main goal of this Report Card. With this knowledge, the public will increase support for infrastructure improvement and maintenance. They will subsequently urge elected leaders to take action to prioritize funding, so that our vital infrastructure meets the current and future needs of Texas citizens.
Texas continues to be a geographically critical hub to the nation’s domestic and international passenger travel and air freight, boarding 90 million passengers and moving 5.8 million tons of cargo in 2019. Though the physical condition of the state’s airfield infrastructure is good overall, the increase in traffic from previous years puts strain on the aging system. Timely airfield pavement rehabilitation has occurred at airports through continued investments from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), and local municipalities. While airfield infrastructure is in good condition, too many airports around the state are overcrowded, cramped, and operate inefficiently at peak travel times due to outdated terminals and support facilities, including baggage and package handling systems. Six of Texas’ commercial airports rank in the top 50 nationwide for annual passenger enplanements with Dallas Fort Worth (DFW) International Airport as the 4th busiest and George Bush Intercontinental Airport as the 14th busiest. The aviation industry is changing in a variety of ways, driven largely by fluctuations in consumer behavior, expectations, and rapid shifts in the characteristics and structure of logistic supply chains. Texas’ general aviation airports serving private and small aircraft charter operations are a significant component of aviation infrastructure, conducting 5.7 million operations annually that generate $9.3 billion in economic impact. Texas’ inevitable aviation change will need to be met with increased economic investments, ongoing airport redesign, capacity expansion, and service improvement projects throughout the state—leading to an estimated $11.2 billion in airport infrastructure demands over the next 5 years.
Texas maintains the largest bridge inventory in the nation, has the smallest percentage (1.3%) of structurally deficient bridges along with Nevada, and, according to TxDOT, achieves a level of safety where zero crashes are caused annually by poor bridge conditions. However, to accommodate Texas’ growth and continue this good standing, estimates show $3.6 billion needed annually for bridges and culverts over the next 10 years, while $18 billion is still needed over the same timeframe to erase the backlog of deficient bridges. Public initiative and legislative leadership led to the passing of Propositions 1 and 7 in 2014 and 2015, respectively, to raise funds, but heavier trucks, a growing population, and some bridges in flood-prone areas, exert increasing demand on the system, requiring continued priority and resources for maintaining and improving the state’s assets.
Dams in Texas serve many purposes including recreation, flood risk mitigation, irrigation, water supply and fire protection, among others. About 1 in 3 of the state’s dams are for flood risk mitigation and 1 in 7 dams are for irrigation or water supply. Dams have great value and great consequence. The consequences of a dam failure far exceed the loss of a water supply or your favorite fishing hole. When a dam fails, the area downstream faces loss of life or property, or both. Of the about 7,200 non-federal dams in our state, approximately 25% could result in loss of life should they fail. Furthermore, underfunded and understaffed regulatory agencies impact dam safety and increase risk. More than 3,200 Texas dams are exempt from dam safety requirements by State legislation.
In 2019, the Association of State Dam Safety Officials estimated the cost to rehabilitate all non-federal dams in Texas at around $5 billion. The Texas State Soil and Water Conservation Board estimates about $2.1 billion is needed to repair or rehabilitate dams included in the Small Watershed Programs.
Texas’ drinking water sector has improved in the conservation, planning, management, and increases in State funding and financing support.
Texas’ commitment to fund safe, adequate, and reliable drinking water is critically important for continuing growth and prosperity. Texas’ population is projected to grow by more than 1,000 people per day— from 29.7 million in 2020 to approximately 51.5 million by 2070. Meeting these increasing water demands is imperative to the state’s economy.
The Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) developed the first State Water Plan (SWP) in 1961 for Texas legislators. Updated every 5 years since 1992 and incorporating 16 regional water plans since 2002, the SWP guides state water policy. Current and anticipated shortages are addressed in areas with limited surface water supplies or areas concerned about groundwater resource conditions. Water conservation currently adds 1.07 million acre-feet per year of supply and is projected to increase by 140% by 2070. The total capital cost of water supply strategies identified in the 2017 water plan is $63 billion with an expected $26.8 billion funding gap to be filled by water utility revenues.
Two categories make up energy in Texas: oil & gas and electricity. Texas serves as an important hub for North America, leading the U.S. in oil & gas energy production, at more than 20% of nationally produced energy. Texas has established itself as the energy innovation capitol of the world. Innovation has led to dramatic growth of oil production from about 1 million barrels per day in 2011 to over 5.4 million barrels per day in 2019. Texas energy contributed to US energy production being greater than consumption for the first time in 62 years. Building on the status quo will require continued innovative infrastructure investments to maintain Texas’ global energy leadership position.
On the electricity front, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) system is comprised of 46,500 miles of transmission lines and more than 680 generation resources. This infrastructure is sufficient to meet current demands. However, electricity demands in Texas have continuously increased and are expected to continue growing. Over the past decade, energy use in ERCOT increased by 20% due to a strong economy and population growth.
Roughly 1 in 10 Texans are exposed to moderate or high annual riverine flood risks, which will increase as our population exponentially grows. Eliminating the riverine or coastal flood risks from extreme storm events is impossible, but local communities and state leaders are taking initiatives to reduce flood risks through better planning, improved asset management, and new bonding measures for funding flood risk mitigation infrastructure. Greatly influenced by the Governor’s Commission to Rebuild Texas November 2018 report1, in 2019 the Texas Legislature passed significant legislation initiating the State Flood Plan and increasing funding by over $1.8 billion for new, statewide flood risk mitigation. The State identified three key pillars of comprehensive flood risk management: 1) mapping, 2) planning, and 3) mitigation. However, as documented in the TWDB 2019 Texas State Flood Assessment Report to the 86th Texas Legislature, the magnitude of Texas’ need is significant, exceeding $31.5 billion over the next decade.
Highways and Roads
Texas’ highway network is the nation’s largest and critical to our economy. The State’s economic growth depends on the efficiency, reliability, and safety of our highway system, supporting individual mobility, commerce, and industry needs. From 2015 to 2020, Texas’ population grew by nearly 9% and roadway conditions saw modest improvements pointing to positive outcomes and a continued need for infrastructure expansion and updates. From 2010 to 2016, daily vehicle travel rose nearly 16%, resulting in many Texas motorists are seeing increased delays, limited roadway capacities, and deteriorating conditions. Auto commuters in Austin, DFW, and Houston face significantly more congestion than the national average. The average Texan spends 54 hours in traffic at a cost of $1,080 annually.
However, current funding levels and resources from the state’s gas tax are inadequate to keep up with Texas’ projected growth, leaving a $15 billion annual gap through 2040. While some of Texas’ urban centers are seeing trail and bikeway improvements and voters supported transportation funding increases in 2014 and 2015, a continued, collaborative effort from the public, state legislators, and professionals is needed to “keep the foot on the gas” in guiding the state’s roads in the right direction.
Many areas of Texas are protected by a system of levees, man-made structures that provide hurricane, storm, and flood protection. There is no state levee program, yet more than 1 million Texans and $127 billion dollars’ worth of property are protected by levees. The Texas 2018 Levee Inventory Report lists 327 levee systems total, including U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and known non-USACE levee systems, extending a combined 567 miles and protecting a population of 999,000. Nearly 90% of the levees in Texas are constructed, inspected, and maintained by local governing agencies that oftentimes lack adequate resources for routine assessments. The average age of the state’s levees is 47 years, while the national average is 56. Five levee systems (about 100 miles of levees) out of 41 assessed to date are classified as high to very high risk. Although levee failures in Texas are rare, increasingly frequent and intense storms have recently tested the capacity of the state’s levees multiple times. Largely, condition-related data is unknown as most of the levees and the associated consequences from failure or poor performance is not well documented. More than 75% of Texas levee systems are without screened risk classification compared to 81% nationally. Without a clearer picture of the state’s levee infrastructure and concerted funding to assist private owners, the vast majority of the state’s levees will remain in the presumed deficient status, leaving it impossible to estimate needed funding.
Parks & Recreation
Texas contains some of the most diverse public lands in the country, including 14 national parks and 88 state parks, covering 630,000-plus acres that showcase natural treasures, numerous county and city parks, and many community public green spaces. The Texas State Park System’s funding includes multiple allocations and appropriations passed by the Texas Legislature. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) is the state agency whose mission is to manage and conserve the natural and cultural resources of Texas and to provide hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation opportunities for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations. The TPWD Fiscal Year 2021 budget is $444.6 million. These funds are required to adequately operate, maintain, and protect parks. Unfortunately, history shows funding is all too often diverted. Texans, however, passed Proposition 5 in 2019, ensuring that 100% of sporting goods sales tax helps fund TPWD and the Texas Historical Commission. Parks and green spaces energize communities and serve as retreat venues, creating memories and enjoyment of the outdoors. State parks serve as emergency shelters during crisis events, such as hurricanes and floods. Parks also preserve scenic natural treasures and conserve wildlife and their habitats, while allowing the public to enjoy recreational resources. With over 96% of Texas land privately owned, counties and cities depend upon donations to acquire properties and designate them for public use. Proposition 5 funding will help secure the future of local parks, state parks, and historic sites for generations to come. Dedicated park funding is extremely important given the $800 million remaining in deferred maintenance projects.
Texans generated approximately 40.2 million tons of solid waste in 2015. Per capita each Texan generated 8 pounds of solid waste per a day, significantly higher than the national rate of 4.5 pounds. That same year, the recycling rate in Texas was 23%, marginally below the national rate of 26%.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) delegates the authority to permit and regulate all solid waste facilities in the state to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). Solid waste management in Texas is provided by a combination of public and private entities. Texas has a reasonable amount of waste disposal capacity in reserve, with the statewide average of 51 years of capacity in reserve. However, continued population growth will result in an uneven distribution of Texas’ reserve waste disposal capacity. While there are parts of the state that have robust recycling collection programs and access to infrastructure to divert material from disposal, there is a significant portion in both urban and rural areas without access to these programs. The application of new solid waste management technology and techniques is very limited in Texas and largely applies to only waste disposal operations, not recycling.
Unlike other infrastructure, solid waste does not receive funding from the Federal government. Texas collects tipping fees from each ton of waste disposed. A portion of these funds are retained in reserves. With a reserve balance of $112 million, as of January 2020, Texas could fund more innovative and resilient solid waste management practices for public and private industries, stretching existing landfill capacity by increasing reserve spending.
Public transportation (transit) infrastructure in Texas predominantly includes roadway vehicles like buses and vans, while rail lines serve some of the state’s more densely populated areas, namely Austin, DFW, and Houston. From 2015 to 2019, reductions in asset failures were seen across the state with metropolitan transit authorities reporting an 8.9% reduction, urban transit systems a 7.1% reduction, and rural transit systems a 43% reduction. Although transit infrastructure provides safe and effective service—a trend that is expected to continue—the system competes with individually-owned vehicles and users’ preference to drive themselves. However, public support for transit has contributed to growing networks of interconnected urban centers in DFW, Houston, San Antonio, and other areas. These expansions are driven by significant local funding for regional initiatives to match Federal grants, increasing the steady growth in capacity, service type, and system improvements. Maintaining services and expansions desired by Texans will continue to require increased local investment in transit infrastructure.
Texas has an escalating population that depends on the state’s wastewater infrastructure to protect public health and the environment. Wastewater infrastructure includes a system of pipes to collect wastewater from homes and businesses and a network of treatment plants to clean the water before it is discharged to our rivers and bayous. The condition of these systems continue to decline, primarily because of their age. Federal and State funding is deficient, with a shortfall of more than $200 million. Local resources for system expansions and planning are limited, and when tested by extreme events, many wastewater systems are not resilient. From 2016 to 2019, the number of sanitary sewer overflows (SSO) more than doubled from 2,500 to almost 6,000. Furthermore, some major municipalities have entered into consent decrees with the US EPA to address SSO. As wastewater system performance decreases, Texas’ lakes, rivers, and beaches continue to suffer poor health due to ongoing threats from SSO. However, some initiatives are helping to curb the wastewater sector’s downturn by increasing SSO reporting and incentivizing fiscal and technical training for Asset Management Program for Small Systems.
A: EXCEPTIONAL, B: GOOD, C: MEDIOCRE, D: POOR, F: FAILING
Each category was evaluated on the basis of capacity, condition, funding, future need, operation and maintenance, public safety, resilience, and innovation
Key Facts about Texas's Infrastructure
210 public-use airports
847 (1.57%) of the 53,869 bridges are structurally deficient
1,411 high hazard dams
Dams with EAPS
80% of the state regulated dams have an Emergency Action Plan
$8.76 billion in drinking water infrastructure needs over the next 20 years
55 sites on the National Priorities List
830 miles of inland waterways, ranking it 13rd
2,027 miles of levees
506.6 million short tons of cargo in 2012, ranking it 2nd nationally
$86.71 million of unmet needs for its parks system
10,506 miles of freight railroads across the state, ranking 1st nationally
$682 per motorist per year in costs from driving on roads in need of repair
314,319 miles of Public Roads, with 24% in poor condition
275,409,894 annual unlinked passenger trips via transit systems including bus, transit, and commuter trains
$11.83 billion in wastewater infrastructure needs over the next 20 years
Our nation’s infrastructure problems are solvable if we have leadership and commit to making good ideas a reality. Raising the grades on our infrastructure will require that we seek and adopt a wide range of solutions.
State and local governments continue to lose revenue as the pandemic impacts user-fee participation. Urge Congress to use the lame-duck session to provide necessary relief to ensure all sectors of our infrastructure remain safe and reliable.