By Gary Borders
TxDOT announces $85 billion transportation plan
The Texas Department of Transportation has adopted a 10-year statewide roadway construction plan with a record $85 billion price tag, officials announced last week. The Unified Transportation Plan authorizes the distribution of construction money that is expected to be available during the next decade. Within that framework, TxDOT works with elected officials and local planning organizations, as well as the public, to pick and fund the state’s highest priority transportation projects.
In addition to highways the UTP addresses public transportation, aviation, rail, maritime, and freight and international trade. Many projects in the plan are highways identified on the state’s 100 most congested roadways list.
“The UTP reflects a continued focus on improving transportation safety as the top priority, maintaining our current system, addressing traffic congestion, and improving statewide connectivity over the next decade,” said TxDOT Commission Chairman J. Bruce Bugg, Jr.
Funding for UTP comes from “legislative and voter-approved initiatives that allocate portions of oil and gas taxes, sales taxes, and other money to the state highway fund,” according to the TxDOT news release.
RRC approves final rule for gas plant weatherization
More than 18 months after Winter Storm Uri shut down much of the state’s electric grid, the Texas Railroad Commission last week adopted the state’s first weatherization rules requiring natural gas facilities to protect gas flow to power plants.
“These new rules ensure our state’s natural gas supply chain is prepared for extreme heat and freezing cold,” said RRC Chairman Wayne Christian. “These rules will ensure that the natural gas facilities Texans rely on for reliable energy are operational when we need it most.”
Fines for administrative violations could reach up to $1 million.
Gar harvest drawing now underway
Anglers itching for a chance to catch a large alligator gar can sign up through Sept. 30 to enter a drawing through Texas Parks & Wildlife to legally do so on a stretch of the Trinity River that goes from Dallas through East Texas. A total of 150 anglers will have the chance to use any legal means to take one of these prehistoric-looking creatures that is over 48 inches in length.
The following counties are included: Anderson, Chambers, Dallas, Ellis, Freestone, Henderson, Houston, Kaufman, Leon, Liberty, Madison, Navarro, Polk, San Jacinto, Trinity, and Walker.
“This segment of the Trinity River has become one of the most popular destinations in the world to catch a large alligator gar, but concerns have been raised about the potential for overharvest and its risks to fishing quality,” said Craig Bonds of TPWD. “With this drawing system, we are able to give 150 anglers the opportunity to harvest the fish of a lifetime while also meeting our management goal to conserve this unique resource for current and future generations of anglers.”
To find out more, go to tpwd.texas.gov.
Texas sees first monkeypox fatality
State officials last week confirmed the first death of a Texas patient diagnosed with monkeypox. As reported by the Austin American-Statesman, the adult in the Houston area was “severely immunocompromised.”
The rare disease is generally transmitted by skin-to-skin contact with someone already infected. Its symptoms are generally less severe but can be extremely painful, with rashes and blisters arising. Fever, headaches, rashes and blisters can also occur.
The Texas Department of State Health Services has reported a total of 1,695 cases in Texas to date.
Grim year for Texas cotton growers
Cotton production has been largely wiped out this year by drought and extreme heat, the Texas Tribune reported. The loss to farmers mainly in the Texas High Plains will be at least $2 billion, according to the International Center for Agricultural Competitiveness at Texas Tech University.
Cotton isn’t the only crop suffering from the heat and drought. Corn crops are in poor condition, and many pastures for cattle have been extraordinarily dry, forcing ranchers to sell their animals.
“They’ve had to liquidate their cattle herds due to the fact that there’s nothing for the cattle to eat without supplemental feeding,” Brant Wilbourn, associate director of commodity and regulatory activities at Texas Farm Bureau, told the Tribune.
COVID-19 workers’ comp claims updated
More than 90,000 COVID-19 workers’ compensation cases have been reported in Texas, along with 459 fatalities, according to the state Department of Workers’ Compensation. Slightly more than half (51%) of the claims and 55% of the fatalities involved first responders and correctional officers.
Most of the benefits paid were for employer salary continuation or indemnity benefits in the cases of fatalities. The information was gathered through a conference call with 74 selected insurance carriers.
COVID-19 cases, fatalities show little change
The number of new cases of COVID-19 reported in the past week in Texas stayed steady at 56,734, with 183 deaths reported by the Coronavirus Resource Center at Johns Hopkins University. That is little changed from the previous week.
DSHS reported 2,598 lab-confirmed COVID-19 hospitalizations in the state as of Friday, also comparable to last week.
Gary Borders is a veteran award-winning Texas journalist. He published a number of community newspapers in Texas during a 30-year span, including in Longview, Fort Stockton, Nacogdoches and Cedar Park. Email: email@example.com.