Texas highways are showing the wear and tear of more traffic, and it will take an increase in maintenance funding to keep pavement conditions from deteriorating further, according to state transportation officials.

TxDOT officials announced last week that billions of dollars may need to be transferred from new construction to routine maintenance to take care of the nearly 80,000-mile state highway system.

“Just to keep our pavement conditions at the current level, it would take an additional $6.3 billion between now and 2012,” said Amadeo Saenz, TxDOT assistant executive director for engineering operations.

“Redirecting our limited resources is never an easy decision,” Saenz said. “But preventive maintenance is vital for the condition of our highways and the safety of their users. Spending a single dollar on preventive highway maintenance saves at least four times that amount over the life of a road.”

TxDOT evaluates statewide highway conditions each year, measuring the ride quality a pavement provides as well as the ruts, potholes and cracks in the road surface. After several years of improved pavement conditions, reports indicated a decline in 2006.

Several factors are contributing to deteriorating conditions: soaring inflation diminishes the purchasing power of highway maintenance funds, increasing traffic wears down highways, and a prolonged drought that began in 2005 has caused pavements to crack, shift and settle.

Since 2002, highway construction costs have increased by 73 percent, an inflation rate far higher than that for consumer goods.

Saenz said the situation points to the need for balancing two important goals: maintaining the existing highway system and reducing traffic congestion.

“Finding just the right balance is tough,” Saenz said. “Texans deserve both a well-maintained highway system and the ability to get where they want to go in a timely manner.”

TxDOT staff reported on pavement conditions during the commission meeting. The item was for discussion only, with the commission taking no action. The issue may come up again at the commission’s July 26 meeting in Sugar Land.

In a statement after the meeting, Carona commented on TxDOT’s funding transfer.

“This is good news, bad news for North Texas,” Carona said. “We will be seeing more funding because of the bad condition of our roads as compared to the rest of the state. It is another reminder of the poor state of transportation finance in Texas and the need to have revenue alternatives.”