The state's lack of resources and investment dollars to solve its infrastructure problems is a challenge that state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, said is leading to congestion becoming an accepted part of life in Central Texas.

"After enduring the situation for too long, people are starting to recognize that Texas' prosperity is riding on how we respond to this challenge," Watson said. "It's riding on what we leave for those coming behind us."

The challenge the state and region face to fund existing and future transportation needs was the focus of the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce's annual State of Transportation address held Oct. 9. Watson said funding transportation will take everyone working together to invest now for the future.

"No one approach or project or mode of transportation is going to fix this," he said. "We've got to try every option we know that we have."

In November 2014, voters will have the chance to decide on a ballot measure that would cut in half the 75 percent of the gas severance tax—which is levied on natural gas production—that goes into the state's Economic Stabilization Fund, also known as the rainy day fund. If approved, 37.5 percent of that tax would fund roads and 37.5 percent would go to the rainy day fund.

Watson said this could generate an estimated $1 billion in funding for roads each year. That figure is one-fourth the amount the Texas Department of Transportation said it needs annually to maintain existing roadways and existing congestion levels. The $4 billion TxDOT has requested does not include money the department says it would need to reduce congestion.

"We know what it would take to address [our challenges]," Watson said. "What we lack are the resources to fix them. We lack the investment dollars to make a difference."

Despite this bleak outlook, Watson said Central Texas is making progress on several road projects because of $32 million the region received as part of its share of the Rider 42 funds from the 2012–13 budget.

These funds are earmarked for the 50 most congested roads in Texas, and Watson said the money is funding a $16.5 million environmental study on MoPac from Lady Bird Lake to Slaughter Lane and a $14 million study of proposed I-35 improvements in Travis County.

"We're laying the foundation for transportation improvements that will help bring this region through the 21st century," he said.

State Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, said she agrees that the public perception of Texas' transportation issues could hinder the state's and region's futures. Besides increasing transportation issues, she said the state has a revenue problem and needs to figure out other ways to increase revenue that funds transportation.

During the past legislative session, measures that would have created a local tax in Central Texas failed to move forward. Howard said the lack of revenue to fund transportation and increasing congestion is affecting companies' decisions to move to or remain in Austin.

"They're now seeing they're back in that [congestion] here, and they're not sure they're going to stay, and it certainly isn't a good advertisement for coming to Austin," she said.

Howard, whose district covers portions of Northwest, Central and Southwest Austin, said the state needs to find ways of creating sustainable revenue streams for transportation instead of reallocating money from other state agencies.

"I think you still have to look at the overall picture here and how we've been funding—or not funding—transportation over many years and how we got to this point," she said. "It looks like a greater amount is needed in some ways because we've been relying on debt service to pay for our roads for so long, and we've maxed out the credit card."

Martha Smiley, the chamber's vice chairwoman of regional mobility, said land use plays an important factor in helping congestion when jobs are created closer to where people live and housing is built closer to where people work. Investing in technology to aid people with choosing the best transportation option can also help, she said. She said more jobs and housing units need to be within a quarter- or half-mile of high-capacity transit stations.

"Not all jobs need to be in downtown Austin," Smiley said. "That just exacerbates our congestion. Shorter trips will help reduce our traffic."

She said the chamber remains committed to helping the region address peak-hour congestion.

"Traffic and congestion continue to be the Achilles' heel of our region and of our state," Smiley said. "All of us are petrified of the companies that continue to reach out to the chamber about their employees' ever-growing commute times. The sobering fact is we continue to hear stories of missed economic opportunities because of our traffic."