Detailed transportation funding information for Texas will soon be available to anyone with Internet access — thanks to an interactive website (called TRENDS) being co-designed by the Texas Transportation Institute (TTI) and the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT). It’s the first time a state’s transportation funding projection model will be available to the public. TRENDS, by the way, stands for Transportation Revenue, Estimator and Needs Determination System.
“We are regularly asked by elected officials about the funding impact of a particular measure they are considering, like an increase in the fuel tax for example,” says Jessica Castiglione, the TRENDS project director and mobility engineer for TxDOT. “Unfortunately, it’s a time-consuming process. TRENDS will be able to answer the question in a matter of seconds, thanks to the data that have been uploaded.”
The TRENDS website will not only examine transportation revenue information for the state as a whole, but will be extremely useful on a regional basis as well. TRENDS will have 25 separate revenue sub-models for each of the state’s metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs).
“Regional planners will be able to access information about the transportation funds that are specific to their areas,” says TTI Research Scientist Dave Ellis. “TRENDS will calculate the revenue potential for the various local funding options, including fuel taxes, fuel tax indexing, vehicle registration fees and VMT [vehicle miles traveled] fees.”
TRENDS will allow users to predict future revenue needs through the year 2035 based on a multitude of scenarios including population projections and the changing fuel efficiencies of automobiles, all of which impact transportation funding.
“We all know of the financial constraints facing transportation in Texas,” says Castiglione. “The TRENDS model will put us all on the same page. Hopefully, it will remove any questions about transportation funding shortfalls and the things we can do to fill the gaps.”
All of the various components of TRENDS are scheduled for completion by September of this year. However, as changes occur to variables such as cash flow forecasts, construction cost inflation and debt service, the model will be updated. Future legislative changes in revenue, expenditures and fund transfers will also be incorporated.
“TRENDS has the potential of being a great tool for not only experts in the transportation field, but for anyone who wants to know the challenges facing TxDOT during these economically stressful times,” says Ellis. “Getting the model up and going with all the complicated and detailed variables has been extremely challenging, but the transparency it will provide is well worth the effort.”