Shifting transportation priorities in Texas will phase out expansive road development in the near future, Gov. Greg Abbott predicted Wednesday in a speech to the Rotary Club of San Antonio.

“The bottom line is this: The way people get around, the way people live is going to change,” Abbott said. “As a result, this generation of roads that [Texas Transportation Commission Chairman] Bruce Bugg is in charge of building is probably the last major buildout of roads we’ll have in the state of Texas, even considering the fact that Texas is the fastest-growing state in America.”

Though the governor limited his speculation on potential changes to the transportation landscape to more people walking and the introduction of flying cars, his forecast diverged from the way the Texas Department of Transportation has always operated: with the primary purpose of building roads and highways. Asked after his speech about the state’s role in improving public transit, Abbott said that is the purview of local governments.

In his address to the Rotary Club at a lunch event, Abbott spoke about state initiatives on education and affordable housing and the continued strength of the state’s economy. He also pointed to traffic congestion as a sign people are still flocking to Texas because of a booming economy and a better quality of life. 

“Last year, California lost 700,000 of their residents moving to other states,” Abbott said. “A community almost the size of San Antonio left the state of California. Illinois is now facing a net population decrease because of people fleeing their state. 

“There are regions of the country losing population, so be proud of the fact that one of the reasons why your roads are so congested is because so many people are finding San Antonio and Bexar County and the state of Texas to be so attractive to live in.”

The future of transportation lies in alternatives to traditional motor vehicle travel, Abbott said. He cited his 22-year-old daughter as part of a generation that prefers to use ride-hailing platforms such as Uber rather than drive a personal vehicle. A move toward downtown, higher-density living in cities like Austin and Houston also lessens the need for everyone to use their cars, he added. 

But Texas needs to keep an eye on keeping its housing costs within reach, Abbott said.

“Housing is far more affordable in Texas than it is California or Illinois or New York or some of these other states that people are fleeing from,” he said. “But that affordability issue is now beginning to bite Texas. One thing that is driving up the cost of housing and the cost of living is skyrocketing property taxes – skyrocketing property taxes that are beginning to force people out of homes they’ve lived for virtually in their entire lives.”

Abbott touted the Texas Legislature’s property tax reform efforts in the last session. Abbott signed Senate Bill 2 into law in June, requiring cities and counties to get voter approval before raising more than 3.5 percent in property tax revenues compared to the previous year.

The state would be responsible for shortfalls that school districts incur from property tax limits, Abbott said. The Texas Legislature also gave additional funding last session toward teacher pay raises and early education.

He also boasted of the state’s recent acquisitions of manufacturing facilities which brought new jobs to the area, including the $391 million investment in upgrading the San Antonio Toyota plant and the $250 million investment in a new Navistar truck manufacturing plant.

This economic investment in San Antonio has helped Texas earn its reputation as “the state of the decade” from Business Facilities Magazine, Abbott said. 

“There are millions of people from San Antonio who are proud to say they call San Antonio home,” Abbott said. “And there are millions more who will come to San Antonio proud to call San Antonio home. And they’re coming because of the opportunity that San Antonio provides.”

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Jackie Wang

Jackie Wang covered local government for the San Antonio Report.