Fran Sage, 2/14/08, Part Three

LA ENTRADA AT THE CROSSROADS: PART THREE

BY FRAN SAGE

To conclude my three part series of articles leading to the February 19th public meeting sponsored by TxDOT (Texas Department of Transportation), let us return to the agenda. For the last year, the HDR Consulting Team, headed by Brian Swindell, has been working to project freight growth figures through the Port of Entry at Ojinaga/Presidio. After the team announces whether they propose to continue working on a four-lane divided highway or not, they will continue to assess what would need to be done to make the route workable based on the data accumulated and the understanding of the volume of freight anticipated crossing the border into Texas. They would then have to determine what the safety improvements and/or the expansion of existing highways would need to be and what costs would be required. The Study Team would then have to look at environmental, engineering and mobility impacts, including safety and cost factors, in order to assess the best routes for these improvements.

 

But what would they do if they conclude that potential growth would not warrant continuing, if the Port of Topolobampa and the road or trains coming through Copper Canyon in the Sierra Madre Occidental range separating the Mexican west coast from Chihuahua City would not be complete and functioning by 2030, the limits of the feasibility study? If a no build is announced, then will more analysis be needed?

 

The answer is yes. As you could see in the figures from Part Two of this series there will still be traffic which is expected to grow from the interior, from Chihuahua City and that general area. Remember the prospects for NAFTA being revised or cancelled are almost nil. We will have some traffic regardless. In either case—build or no build— further analyses will be needed. Mr. Swindell says, “Once it is determined whether a four-lane highway is feasible or not, we will determine where to focus our attention on potential improvements. These improvements will be proposed on the currently designated La Entrada al Pacifico Corridor and potentially on other route(s) that indicate a significant volume of traffic.” Another way of understanding this is that if the designated route is not workable or if traffic is shown to prefer another route, this other route might become a good alternate for the designated trade corridor.

Prior to the meeting a threshold table is being prepared. This threshold table will determine the Level of Service and then grade, like a “report card”, the highways based on an “A” for free flow to “F” for serious congestion, with an acceptable level midway between. The projected traffic figures will be related to all potential routes and will combine the freight forecast with the local traffic already here. The threshold table would safeguard against over or under estimations of traffic and would be used to signal what level of traffic would require additional work on the highways or segments of the highways.

At the meeting the audience will be asked to look at the possible alternative routes and indicate which of those routes need further assessment and which routes have significant “fatal flaws.” Those that remain will be further evaluated through a “matrix screening” that will assess routes for engineering, mobility, and environmental impacts.

 

Visit the TxDOT La Entrada website at

http://www.dot.state.tx.us/services/transportation_planning_and_programming/la_entrada/default.htm That site will have the data used, an executive summary, maps, and newsletters. If your paper does not have the possible alternative routes map, check out the site for the map. cac_map1.pdf

 

Whether the recommendations include four-lane widening or merely safety and/or mobility improvements, alternative routes need examination. The threshold table is now being developed for display at the Public Meeting. Below are a few questions that come to my mind.

 

  • How credible is the data that interior Mexican freight growth will happen? What was looked at to determine that projected growth and how inclusive is that data?

 

  • What improvements will be needed at the port of entry both on the Mexican and Texas side of the river?

 

  • What would need to be done to have the traffic coming up from Chihuahua City to continue to divert to Juarez/El Paso?

 

  • If a workable alternative route needs improvement would the designated route also be improved?

 

Those are just a few questions that occur to me. This three-part series has been as factual as I could make it and does not include opinion. I hope to write an opinion piece at the end of the month based on what we learn at the meeting.

 

I urge you TO ATTEND THE MEETING, LOOK AT THE DISPLAYS, HEAR THE PRESENTATIONS AND THEN COMMENT AND ASK QUESTIONS. WHILE WE ARE ALL CONCERNED ABOUT TRUCKS COMING THROUGH, LET’S GET A GRIP ON OUR WORRIES BY PRESSING TO UNDERSTAND MORE SO THAT WE CAN TAKE AN ACTIVE ROLE BOTH WITHIN THE STUDY PROCESS AND BEYOND IT. WE WILL CONTINUE TO LIVE OUT HERE LONG PAST WHEN THE STUDY IS DONE AND THE TEAM HAS LEFT.

 

The meetings will be held as listed below:

 

Alpine: Tuesday February 19, 2008, SRSU, Marshall Auditorium 6 pm

Presidio: Wednesday February 20, 2008, Presidio High School 1000 E. FM 170 6 pm

Midland: Monday, February 25, 2008, Center for Energy and Economic Development (CEED) University of Texas at the Permian

Basin 6 pm

Ft. Stockton: Tuesday February 26, 2008, Ft. Stockton High School, 1200 W. 17th Street, 6 pm

 

All of these articles when finished will be posted 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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