Monthly Archives: January 2008

Fran Sage, 1/31/08, Part One

LA ENTRADA AT THE CROSSROADS, PART ONE

BY FRAN SAGE

On February 19th, the consultant, Brian Swindell, and his HDR team, along with Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) representatives will be back in Alpine. (See below for hearing cities and locations). The hearings will be focused upon the preliminary assessment of probable traffic on the proposed trade corridor from Topolobampo through Chihuahua City to Ojinaga/Presidio into Texas and on up the designated corridor. The study will also assess probable trade traffic coming just from Mexico if the full route is not built. And possibly alternative routes will be identified for further consideration. (Keep in mind that “alternative” does not mean substitute but rather truck driver options.)

 

Today begins a three part series of articles prior to the February 19th hearings, representing my personal assessment of the process. Currently the final DRAFT version is not yet complete, as modifications are being made on some key issues in the freight growth projections—where will increased traffic come from, how much, and when? By February 4th, the Final Draft Version will be on the following website:

http://www.dot.state.tx.us/services/transportation_planning_and_programming/la_entrada/default.htm

 

Let’s put the study in the larger framework first. When NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement) was signed, provision was made (among others) for Mexican long-haul trucks to enter the United States and for U. S. long-haul trucks to enter Mexico. Lawsuits have been filed, tried, appealed, and lost to stop the trade from flowing in without a number of safeguards assured. Last year a pilot program was begun. While that is another story and still unfolding, the relevance is that down the line, sooner or later, trucks or perhaps more accurately, trade will flow. We need to keep that in mind regardless of the final outcome of the feasibility study recommendations and TxDOT later action.

 

When people see me on the street or at meetings, it has been common to have someone say, “No Trucks.” I take it as a reminder that we are all in this fight against La Entrada together. But the degree to which people actually think that “No Trucks” is a likely outcome is the degree to which fantasy overtakes reality. Under NAFTA there will be some trucks or at least trade entering the United States. NAFTA is always with us.

 

At the meeting, the consulting team will lay out what is essentially a statistical assessment in looking at trade diversion from west coast United States and Mexican ports, from the Gulf Coast, as well as that potential impact upon the Mexican route to Presidio as well as internal Mexican shipping that may come regardless of the Asian trade. A major bone of contention is the probability of the route being completed in Mexico before 2030, the study’s limits.

 

Swindell explains that “if the year 2030 traffic forecast in the study area is significant then the remainder of the study will focus on the development of a corridor plan to widen identified corridor(s) to a four-lane facility. However, if the year 2030 traffic forecast in the study area does not justify a four-lane facility, a No-Build Alternative may be recommended that would eliminate the four-lane alternative but could include the identification of safety and local mobility improvements needed in the study area (if any).”

 

Note that the improvements would be based on the overall traffic forecast, representing needs in the entire study area and “not just along the current La Entrada al Pacifico Corridor.” Swindell went on to say that “These safety and mobility recommendations could include projects such as passing lanes, signalization and a reliever route discussion, among others.” He emphasizes the study would only recommend improvements and that “subsequent studies and public involvement would still be required to provide a detailed process in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).”

 

So essentially the feasibility study is in two parts: the freight projections for the entire La Entrada al Pacifico route (Mexican port to Midland and beyond) and, depending on the results of those projections, a study of traffic generally in the study area (roughly the Big Bend and Permian Basin). What happens next depends on the freight projections.

 

Our task will be twofold: Assessing the validity of data used for both possibilities and the method for interpreting that data. The Technical Advisory Committee has been discussing its concerns about both with the consulting team. Changes are being made. In my next article when those changes are in place in the study, we can then get at the heart of the matter: the projected freight growth we might expect.

 

The study requires looking at data from all other ports of entry, and assessing where the Presidio entry fits in with other entries into the United States, and particularly Texas. It is worth noting that while the trade figures, if accurate, do not rule out trains, for the purpose of the freight growth study, truck traffic was used for the ease of the discussion. Swindell says that the freight growth could easily be converted to trains.

 

Below is the meeting schedule. Keep in mind that what will be presented is not the final report for the feasibility study. It is only a final draft report on the growth/ diversion data part of the study. That freight/diversion could still be modified after the public hearings. Next time I will discuss what will actually be presented at the meeting.

The public meetings are scheduled as follows:

Tuesday February 19, 2008

Sul Ross State University

Marshall Auditorium

Alpine, Texas 79830

6:00pm

Wednesday February 20, 2008

Presidio High School

1000 East FM 170

Presidio, Texas 79845

6:00pm

Monday February 25, 2008

Center for Energy & Economic Diversification (CEED) – UTPB

1400 North F.M. 1788
Midland, TX 79706

6:00pm

Tuesday February 26, 2008

Fort Stockton High School

1200 West 17th Street

Ft. Stockton, Texas 79735

6:00pm

All of these articles will be posted as finished to the Big Bend Regional Sierra Club website at http://texas.sierraclub.org/bigbend/ and to the Stewards of the Big Bend website www.stopthetrucks.org .

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Time to Write More Letters

Below are sample letters we’ll be using for the Stop La Entrada letter-writing parties this Saturday in Alpine. There are also bullet points if anyone would like to write their own letter.
Send in your favorite, or all of them, or cut and paste any or all of it to customize your letter. Please also be sure and put a return address on the letter or the envelope. We’re encouraging letters rather than email because letters can’t be deleted!

The more folks from outside the Big Bend that send in letters, the more seriously they’ll take the idea of keeping La Entrada Al Pacifico out of here.

There are two choices for turning in the letters:
If you’d like them to be presented at the TXDOT La Entrada public meeting in Alpine on Feb. 19th, along with the letters from the parties on Saturday, send them to:
Pete Smyke; 303 N. 1st St.; Alpine, TX 79830.
If you’d like to send your letter directly to TXDOT’s executive director, just use this address, which is also on the letters:

Amadeo Saenz Jr., P. E. ; Executive Director; Texas Department of Transportation; 125 East 11th Street ; Austin, Texas 78701

james-evans-la-e-ltr.doc

clarence-ltr.doc

molly-ltr.doc

short-sample-letter.doc

bullet-points-revision.doc

Truck Traffic

According to Juan Carlos with TTI Texas Transportation Institiute: “From other studies, what we have found is that the opening of the border would not have a dramatic change on current conditions. The flow of goods is driven by the demand of those goods in the U.S. So, the number of trucks and the commodities will be the same as the ones that have been moving in the past, unless there is a major change in demand patterns, i.e. a new manufacturing plant or what we have been observing with grain movements that changed due to new demand for ethanol.”

TxDot design budget for 2008 has been cut from $45.2 million to $19.6 million

The Austin American Statesman reports this morning that the TxDot new design road construction budget has been cut.

“They’re calling it the ‘Black Christmas,’ ” said Lisa Powell, owner of PE Structural Consultants in Austin, a 14-person firm that in good times gets 90 percent or more of its business from TxDOT. “A lot of people are really scrambling right now, fearful about what’s going to happen.”

Another Route for La Entrada al Pacifico

W. Foster Rich has written a comprehensive article describing a logical alternate route for truck traffic.

Declining Freight Traffic

Apparently with consumer spending down, a major shipper, Maersk has layed off 3,000 workers in it’s container division. The report in the LA Times states that 10 of the busiest container ports are in decline. So, why don’t we build another trade corridor?

Letter Writing and the next round of TxDot public meetings

Hey Y’all,
    We just got word that the next round of TXDOT La Entrada public meetings will be on these dates in February: Tu 19th in Alpine, Weds 20th in Presidio, Mon 25 Midland, Tu 26 in Ft. Stockton. They’ve put all the “alternative” routes on one map, but it isn’t on the TXDOT website as of Friday evening. It’ll probably be up in the coming week.
    Here’s a press release about our Letter Writing Parties that will occur on Saturday January 26th, and some posters too. Feel free to pass on the press release to any media outlets that should have it, especially in Austin and San Antonio. (Please let me know who it went to!) Also pass it on to friends across Texas who might be interested in writing letters.
    TXDOT is still looking at alternatives so the more we can highlight sending La Entrada through El Paso before the meetings above the better.  Also, on Monday both the Brewster County Judge and the director of the Rio Grande Council of Governments expressed support for the El Paso option.
    Anyone who wants to host a party should contact me and I’ll send you our email packet with sample letters and information flyers. (Small affairs count too!) If there’s already a party in your town see about volunteering, too.
    As you may have noticed we don’t have a high-dollar PR firm promoting the parties, so any help at all in getting the word out makes a huge difference.
    Thanks,
Pete Smyke
Here’s the text of the release; the attachment has a map and contact info as well:

On Saturday, January 26th, from 1-3 pm, Texans will gather at several locations across the state to write letters to TXDOT asking them to divert the La Entrada al Pacifico truck corridoraway from its planned route through the Big Bend. This event is being sponsored by the Reviva! Collective and Big Bend Letters, two Alpine groups fighting the LEAP corridor.

“Letter-Writing Parties” 1-08-ltr-party-release.doc will take place at the following locations:


Alpine La Trattoria – 901 E. Holland Ave.

Austin Jo’s Coffee – 1300 S. Congress

Jo’s Coffee – 242 West 2nd St.

Denton Jupiter House Coffee – 106 N. Locust Street

Ft. Davis Twin Souls Coffee House – 209 N. State St.

Marathon Eve’s Garden Bed & Breakfast – Ave. C & N. 3rd

Marfa Marfa Coffee & Wine – 103 Highland Ave.

San Antonio Ruta Maya on the Riverwalk – 107 E. Martin St.

Terlingua Family Crisis Center of the Big Bend – “Next to the Porch in the Ghost Town”

Big Bend communities have worked hard to develop their region’s tourism and retirement relocation economy, based on clean air, small town charm, breathtaking vistas, and a lack of traffic, congestion, and pollution. Many residents feel that a truck route through their small towns will destroy this economy, to say nothing of the region’s traditional ways of life and unique and fragile ecosystems.

Information about La Entrada Al Pacifico will be available at the parties, or folks can visit www.stopthetrucks.org , or www.revivacollective.org . Both sites examine the numerous issues surrounding the placement of a truck route through one of Texas’ most wild and unique regions, and contain sample letters and contact information for state and federal elected officials and TXDOT.

Folks who are interested in hosting a letter-writing party on January 26th can contact bigbendletters@yahoo.com .


The Texas portion of the La Entrada Al Pacifico trade corridor was officially designated by the legislature in 1997 as following US 67 from Presidio, through Marfa and Alpine to Ft. Stockton, and from there via US 385 and I-20 to Midland. This route was named a Federal High Priority Trade Corridor in 2005. (Texas H. B. 2115, the LEAP authorizing legislation, literally suspended the Texas constitution to avoid having the bill read on the Texas House and Senate floor; it passed on the local and consent calendar.)

While the originating traffic for this route was to have come from Topolobampo, Mexico on the Gulf of Baja, the difficulty of crossing the Sierra Madre Occidental (including Copper Canyon) indicates that Chihuahua City will likely be the starting point for most trucks following this route into the United States.

The Letter-Writing Parties seek to point out to TXDOT Executive Director Amadeo Saenz that the current LEAP plan is projected to traverse heavily mountainous terrain on two lane roads through Mexico and the Big Bend. However, trucks traveling from Chihuahua City through El Paso to Midland have four-lane highways the entire way, and existing railroads on this route can create even greater efficiencies (and reduce pollution) handling bulk shipments.

Additionally, the six-lane Tornillo-Guadalupe Bridge, scheduled for completion in 2010, will bypass El Paso to the east and provide swifter access to I-10 (and I-20) through a state of the art Immigration and Customs facility.

El Paso (and Juarez) officials have embraced cross-border trade as an integral part of their area’s economic model and are actively seeking and planning for increased traffic, in marked contrast to the Big Bend’s relatively limited trade infrastructure


TXDOT is currently conducting a feasability study of the LEAP truck route based on the corridor described in H. B. 2115. At the study’s first public meeting in March of 2007 in Alpine, nearly four hundred Big Bend residents attended, with a show of hands revealing that everyone except one person opposed the LEAP corridor.

A second public meeting will be held soon to discuss alternatives TXDOT has identified to the original LEAP plan. (These alternatives will be posted on that agency’s website before the second meeting.)

The Reviva! Collective and Big Bend Letters encourage Texans and folks everywhere to communicate with TXDOT soon regarding the La Entrada Al Pacifico trade corridor at tpp_txdot-leap@dot.state.tx.us (note underscore after “tpp”) or 1-800/517-4652, or better yet join us on January 26th at any of the locations listed above.

Letters written at the January 26th events will be gathered by the Reviva! Collective and presented to TXDOT officials at the next public meeting of the La Entrada Al Pacifico feasability study.