COTULLA — At a convention center in this city 70 miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border, Dimmit County Judge Francisco Ponce said this week what many of the 200 people in the room were thinking.
Texas Department of Transportation officials explained why the agency needed to move forward with plans to convert some well-used paved roads around South Texas to gravel. For Ponce, the explanation exposed a long-standing problem in the agency’s perspective.
“TxDOT’s priorities are not in the rural counties,” he told the agency’s leadership, drawing cheers. “I don’t know how they can sit here and say it’s safer to gravel a road than it is to fix a road.”
Amid financing challenges, TxDOT announced seven weeks ago that it planned to convert 83 miles of farm-to-market road in the heart of the oil-drilling boom to gravel, most of that in the Eagle Ford Shale. Following a public outcry, the agency issued a 60-day moratorium on converting any roads. That has turned the end of October into a grim deadline for county officials hoping to find a way off the so-called gravel list. And as they consider options that include taking over the maintenance of the roads or soliciting donations from the energy sector, the officials say they are being punished for their region’s boom. Continue Reading