This is a pivotal time in transportation.

That was the message of Denise Gentsch with Associated Strategies to over 160 people gathered for the 11th Annual Commerce Business and Industry Luncheon Thursday.

Gentsch said in today’s world, funding for transportation projects will get harder and harder to come by.

“The Federal Highway Trust Fund is a fund where our federal gasoline taxes are received,” Gentsch said. “It could be completely dwindled to nothing in 20 years.”

Gentsch is providing consulting services to the Northeast Texas Regional Mobility Council (NETMOB), a group of four counties including Hunt County that work together on regional transportation issues.

Gentsch said the reason the highway trust fund is being depleted is the continued increase in construction cost. However, recent figures show that the population of the Northeast Texas region could double by 2050.

“That’s a lot of extra folks with extra cars,” she said. “That’s going to be and additional challenge.

“What we send in today in federal gasoline tax dollars is not enough to even maintain our roads, much less build new ones.”

That presents problems for growing communities like Commerce, according to Commerce Mayor Pro Tem Penny Belcher. Belcher also serves on the Strategic Plan Committee, which is making plans to help develop the city.

Belcher said the Committee’s Industrial Development Task Force is working with the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) to look into ways to relieve the truck traffic on Culver Street in Commerce. As a result, the task force decided creating a loop around the southern end of the city was the most critical priority.

Belcher said the loop would start south on Highway 24/50 and link up with FM 3218. It would also continue northward to Highway 11, connecting the majority of Commerce’s industrial development.

Unfortunately, the state has no money for such a project, according to Belcher. It would take TxDOT around 30 years to get the funding and complete the project.

Belcher said the time could be cut considerably if local entities could finance some of the preliminary costs. Those preliminary costs would range from $750,000 to $1 million. The 4A sales tax already in place could be used for the project.

“We need to start to address these issues now,” Belcher said. “We need to decide where we want to go and what we want to look like.”

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