TTI Study Estimates Roadway Damage of the Texas Energy Boom

This is a photo showing poor drainage on an access road

Drainage problems caused by truck traffic are evident on this access road near Abilene.

Nearly all regions of the state have benefited economically from unprecedented energy production over the last 10 years. However, significant road repair needs resulting from the energy boom are estimated to be $2 billion each year for the next 20 years, based on the findings of a Texas Transportation Institute (TTI) study performed for the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT). This level of impact makes rehabilitation and safety high priorities for these well-traveled roadways.

“There is no question about the economic benefit for communities where the surge in wind and oil- and gas-shale energy production is taking place,” TTI Senior Researcher Cesar Quiroga says. “Unfortunately, the roads in and around the boom areas are quickly deteriorating — they were simply not designed for this kind of use.”

TTI recently completed a two-year study entitled Texas Energy Developments and TxDOT Right-of-Way, the first statewide assessment of the energy boom’s wear and tear on Texas roads. As part of the study, researchers developed a database and dynamic map that shows the location of existing and anticipated energy production sites throughout the state, including wind farms in West Texas and oil and gas wells in the Barnett Shale region of North Texas and the Eagle Ford Shale region of South Texas. The study also evaluated pavement impacts of energy-related heavy-truck traffic on affected roads. Researchers collected sample ground penetrating radar and falling weight deflectometer data on affected corridors in West and North Texas. They also evaluated the impact on the roadside, as well as operational, safety, and economic issues resulting from energy developments in the state.

“We limited the analysis of impacts to the roughly 20,000 miles of FM roads that have already been affected or will likely be affected by the state’s energy production in the foreseeable future,” Quiroga says. “After completing the initial assessment, and as part of a request from the newly formed Task Force on Texas’ Energy Sector Roadway Needs, the estimate was expanded to include the county road system in the areas being affected. The analysis indicates a conservative impact in the vicinity of $2 billion per year for affected state- and county-road systems, but that estimate could be higher if the impact on primary highways and bridge infrastructure is included.”

In addition to several funding recommendations ranging from damage assessments to donation agreements with energy companies, the TTI study recommended changes in practices and procedures related to early notification of energy activity and coordination of road maintenance and repair.

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