A panel consisting of Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, Montgomery County Judge Craig Doyal and Galveston Mayor Jim Yarbrough discussed some of the major transportation issues the Greater Houston faces at the annual Mobility Matters Symposium hosted by Transportation Advocacy Group-Houston Region on Wednesday.

The keynote speaker for the event, Texas Department of Transportation Commissioner Jeff Austin, focused his remarks on what he described as the need to prioritize projects regionally and to explore multiple modes of transportation.

"As a region we need y’all’s help to work with [Houston-Galveston Area Council], county judges, elected officials and help set those priorities," Austin said.

Developing the annual Unified Transportation Program is an important part of identifying those priorities, Austin said. The 2018 report—a 10-year planning document to guide transportation development across the state—will be open to public comment from Nov. 9-Dec. 11, according to the TxDOT website.

"We have $13 billion that is unallocated, but that’s going to go away just like that," Austin said.

The North Houston Improvement Project is among the projects that could easily absorb more than half of that unallocated amount, he Austin said. The $7 billion project will target 24 miles of I-45 from Beltway 8 to downtown Houston and could include managed express lanes and high-occupancy vehicle lanes to alleviate congestion.

"The longer we wait to build, the more expensive it’s going to become," Austin said.

Panelists also discussed the importance of toll roads in an area with a growing population and the need for a coastal barrier. Here are key quotes from each of the panelists today:

Using sales tax revenue to fund transportation projects

Taylor: “People aren’t excited about paying more taxes … but if you tell them exactly what you’re going to do with it, they’re OK with that.”

Yarbrough: "You want roads, you want buildings, you want beaches, you want trolleys ... they cost money. None of us want to pay taxes ... but they think some magic fairy is going to bring these infrastructure projects."

Coastal barrier needed to protect nation’s fuel supply

Taylor: "This region produces 30 percent of the nation’s auto fuel, 40-50 percent of the nation’s aviation fuel ...we’re not talking about a special needs project for just our area, this affects the entire county."

Toll roads increasingly important in a growing area

Doyal: “Montgomery County is predicted to be a million people in the next 15-20 years… as you drive through Montgomery County, imagine every car you saw today, double that number. That’s what we need to be preparing for. We need to look at alternative ways to fund projects out there. We’re looking at Hwy. 249 as a toll road project.”