AUSTIN — The Texas Department of Transportation on Jan. 27 reported that on average, Texas drivers in five of the state’s largest metropolitan areas lose about 52 hours and $1,200 annually due to traffic congestion.

Upon approval by its oversight body, the Texas Transportation Commission, TxDOT plans to improve drive times and reduce costs through what it calls an accelerated $1.3 billion effort addressing gridlock in some of the state’s most congested areas.

“The major metro areas of Texas — Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio —represent more than two-thirds of the state’s population and 97 percent of the state’s most congested roads,” said Texas Transportation Commissioner J. Bruce Bugg Jr.

“These areas see some of the worst congestion in the nation. We’ve just completed a listening tour in these major areas and have gathered valuable local input from transportation leaders regarding their priorities and where we can quickly address some needs. This is the initial phase of a new statewide plan to address congestion,” he said.

If adopted, these metro area projects will begin construction to enhance existing efforts and address gridlock on the state highway system. The projects, which add up to more than 42 miles, include interchanges, flyovers and congestion relief efforts at some of the state’s worst choke points. They will be funded using $1.3 billion made available through ending the use of diversions of highway money by other agencies, according to TxDOT.

“For years we’ve been committed to addressing congestion, and this year we’re getting a jumpstart on that part of our core mission,” said TxDOT Executive Director James Bass. “As the severity of congestion in the Lone Star State continues to grow, we are committed to delivering projects many Texans need and deserve to reduce the amount of time they spend in traffic.”

The Texas Transportation Commission also will consider another $800 million in additional funding for connectivity and safety, maintenance, repairs to the energy sector and border infrastructure funding. The commission is expected to vote on all these projects when it considers the quarterly Unified Transportation Plan at its monthly meeting on Feb. 25.

Resettlement prompts suit

The Texas Health & Human Services Commission on Jan. 26 filed suit in the U.S. District Court, Northern District of Texas, Dallas Division, in response to the federal government’s acknowledgement that a family of seven Syrian refugees had arrived in Texas on Jan. 22 without state authorities being officially informed in compliance with a Dec. 7 court order requiring such notification.

The state agency contends that because the group of refugees “presumably includes a military-aged male,” the state’s security has been harmed, and at minimum, “Texas is entitled to see the person-specific information related to Syrian refugees the Defendants intend to resettle to Texas.”

Disaster assistance sought

Gov. Greg Abbott on Jan. 26 declared a state of disaster and requested individual assistance for Collin, Dallas, Ellis, Franklin, Rockwall and Van Zandt Counties. Abbott also requested public assistance for Bailey, Castro, Childress, Cochran, Dallas, Deaf Smith, Dickens, Ellis, Hall, Hardeman, Harrison, Henderson, Hopkins, Kaufman, Kent, King, Lamb, Lubbock, Navarro, Parmer, Rains, Red River, Rockwall, Titus and Van Zandt counties.

The declaration comes after preliminary damage assessments were finalized and federal declaration criteria were met. If President Obama grants Abbott’s request, affected citizens in those counties may apply for federal individual assistance grants of up to $33,000 and low-interest disaster loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration.

In addition to the counties included in the presidential disaster declaration request, Abbott added Hockley, Liberty, Terry and Wichita Counties to the state disaster declaration issued on Dec. 27. “Public Assistance” grants can be for emergency work (debris removal and emergency protective measures) and permanent work on roads and bridges, water control facilities, buildings and equipment, utilities, parks, recreational facilities and other items.

“The severe weather that swept through Texas last December devastated many homes, businesses and lives,” Abbott said. “A disaster declaration will provide Texans the resources needed to begin rebuilding after this tragedy.”

Registration deadline passes

Feb. 1 was the deadline to register to vote in Texas’ March 1 Primary Election.

Those whose registration was completed on time are free to vote in either the Republican or Democratic Primary, but not both. Early voting begins Feb. 16 and continues through Feb. 26.

The deadline to request a ballot by mail is Feb. 19.