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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