TxDOT's $18 million rest stops…

Link to WOAI troubleshooters story here. This program seems to be some earmark in our highway funds set-up by the construction and landscaping industries. It’s absolutely INSANE to be wasting these sums of money on “enhancements” when the Governor, TxDOT, and Senator Wentworth among others keep claiming all of our gas taxes are eaten up in maintenance. Seems it’s more accurate to say they’re eaten up in frivolous earmarks and inane programs that should be devoted to congestion problems…read more here and here and here about other senseless diversions in our highway funds.

You Paid for Them: Million Dollar Rest Stops

Last Update: May 9, 2007 11:50 AM

Posted By: Maritza Nunez

How much is too much for a nice place to stop and use the bathroom? The News 4 WOAI Trouble Shooters have uncovered a multi-million dollar program that pays to renovate or reconstruct dozens of rest areas. One pair of rest stops near Huntsville is costing taxpayers nearly $18 million.The Texas Department of Transportation has told us that there is no more money to build new highways here. So where is all of the money for this rest area program coming from and why is it being spent on bathrooms and not new roads? News 4 WOAI Trouble Shooter Tanji Patton investigates.

By Tanji Patton

The next time you drive by one of those new TxDoT rest stops, you might want to stop and take a look around. Afterall, you’re paying for them.

They are impressive, like the pair on I-10 near Seguin in Guadalupe County.

“It’s beautiful,” one traveler tells me. “It’s my first time here. It’s gorgeous.”

“Oh, I love ’em,” says another. “I love the new rest stops.”

Inside the spacious facility, you’ll find video kiosks presenting the history of Texas, vaulted ceilings, even a nature trail.

“I think they spent a little more on it than they should,” notes another driver.

Actually, the state is spending millions of tax dollars, federal and state, to get you out of your car.

“Our goal is to improve safety.” Randall Dillard, a spokesman for TxDoT, says a rested driver is a safer driver and that’s why the state is spending big bucks on places where you can… you know.

$114 million dollars has been spent so far on 32 newly-renovated rest areas. But the plan is far from finished. Another six are undergoing construction right now with plans to renovate more rest areas.

How much are they costing you?

The Trouble Shooters obtained hundreds of pages of documents related to the construction of the facilities. The costs vary, from just over $1 million dollars for the two rest stops in Gillespie county to nearly $18 million dollars for the two new rest areas being built along I-45 near Huntsville.

Why is Huntsville getting an $18 million pair of rest stops?

“I don’t [know], but I can find out more about why that cost may differ more than the others,” explains Dillard.

The Hunstville price tag isn’t the only one that is getting the Trouble Shooters’ attention. In the panhandle, there are rest stops less than a 100 miles apart with hefty pricetags. Donley county’s rest areas cost $10.5 million. In the Gray/Donley counties, the two rest areas there cost taxpayers $16.8 million.

We asked how TxDoT could justify spending nearly $17 million on a remote section in the panhandle. “In some of the more heavily traveled highways… There are options available to motorists in the area,” says Dillard. “You get out in West Texas, you can travel miles and miles and miles. You don’t have those opportunities.”

Also, Dillard says those panhandle rest areas are reinforced to provide shelter from tornadoes. We asked for a breakdown of the costs for that benefit, but we were told it would be impossible to give us a price for the tornado shelters.

Another rest stop amenity that got the Trouble Shooters’ attention are two man-made lakes at rest areas in Hardeman county. The price tag for the two rest stops was $9.2 million. The price for the two lakes was $400,000.

“They’re there because we need the retention area for the water,” says Dillard of the two lakes. “They’re there because we needed fill material in one part of the property… Out there in West Texas, it’s very flat. You have to do something about the water. When it rains, where’s it gonna go?”

You’re also paying to keep these rest areas up and running. Up to $200,000 a year for landscaping, maintanance, and security at each rest stop across the state.

“Is there a process where someone says, ‘Let’s see if we can save some money instead of let’s spend all the money we have to spend here?'” I ask.

“Absolutely. What we do is we look at what are the needs for that area, for that facility,” replies Dillard. “We’re trying to stretch the dollars as much as we can.”

Those tax dollars come from your pocket by way of the federal government and the state. When it’s all said and done, based on the numbers TxDoT gave us, the cost of the rest stop projects could reach $300 million.

While this may seem an extravagant program to some, TxDoT claims this money cannot be used to maintain highways or build new ones.

“The enhancement money that we’re using to build these safety areas cannot be used on congrestion relief,” says Dillard. “It cannot be used on maintanence.”

He’s right. There are restrictions on what your tax dollars, in this case, can be used for. TxDoT says the money can only be used for projects that “enhance the transportation experience by improving cultural, historic, aesthetic and environmental aspects of our transportation infrastructure.”

So even if TxDoT wanted to put it towards existing highway projects, the agency could not do that. “We could not use enhancement money to do that. That’s correct,” affirms Dillard.

Want to let TxDoT know what you think of the rest area renovation program, click here.

To contact your state leaders, click here. You can also contact the US Representatives that represent you or the US Senators that represent you.

We also want to hear from you. Click here to link to our blog about this story.