Rail Corridor Make’s More Sense

Pete Symke of Alpine writes:

 

Why a rail corridor based on the South Orient right of way

makes more sense than the La Entrada Al Pacifico truck route.

 

            TXDOT’s statewide goals for transportation improvements include the following:

Reducing congestion; Enhancing safety; Expanding economic opportunity; Improving air quality; and Increasing the value of the transportation asset.

            A rail corridor based on the South Orient right of way would do all of these things, while the La Entrada Al Pacifico truck route meets none of these requirements.

 

            The La Entrada Al Pacifico trade corridor is an ethical sinkhole.

            Its authorizing legislation, HB 2115, literally suspended the Texas Constitution in order to keep the bill off of the floors of both the Texas House and Senate, effectively precluding any legislative debate.

            The corridor’s path was chosen by a handful of politically connected Midland, TX residents, the Midland Odessa Transportation Alliance (MOTRAN) without any formal public input.

            HB 2115 was sponsored by Midland representative Tom Craddick while his wife Nadine was serving on the board of MOTRAN.

            La Entrada Al Pacifico is the only one of 80 High Priority Federal Trade Corridors to include “any portion of a highway in a corridor on 2 miles of either side of the center line of the highway.”

 

            A rail corridor based on the current South Orient right of way from Presidio to Dallas would cross 5 established trade routes: the Union Pacific track in Alpine; I-10 in Ft. Stockton; the Ports-to-Plains corridor in San Angelo; the BNSF tracks at San Angelo Junction; and the I-35 corridor in Dallas. (Dallas and Ft. Worth are both developing multi-thousand acre rail-to-truck transfer sites for imported cargo.)

 

            Midland’s unemployment rate is the lowest in Texas. A corridor based on the South Orient will create railroad careers from Presidio to Dallas, as well as freight transfer jobs the length of the line, not to mention ancillary support businesses.

 

            A rail-based import corridor will be inherently more secure than a truck route. Rail shipments will be easier to track than thousands of separate trucks. Rail traffic is also much more highly regulated and inspected for both safety and security than truck traffic.

 

            As fuel costs rise, so do the prices of goods brought into the Big Bend by road. Bringing in goods by rail for local distribution will stabilize costs and create jobs regionally.

            Passenger rail service will also support the Big Bend’s tourism economy into the foreseeable future, no matter the cost of gas.

 

            A truck based trade corridor through the Big Bend will require extensive and ongoing road maintenance and will degrade visitors’ experiences in the area, eventually hurting the region’s economy and spoiling the region’s unique ecosystems.

 

            A rail transportation corridor is the most environmentally sound method of developing the Presidio/Ojinaga border crossing, creating jobs across West Texas, and respecting the unique ecosystems and small town culture of the Big Bend.

 

            A rail corridor would reduce particulate matter and light sources in the Big Bend, which would be  vital to the proper functioning of the McDonald Observatory, a world-class astronomical research institute in Ft. Davis, TX.

 

            State of the art rail corridors are recognized worldwide as the transportation means of the future.

 

Texas Department of Transportation La Entrada Al Pacifico Study Coordinator

Peggy Thurin, P.E. tpp_txdot-leap@dot.state.tx.us (Note underscore after “tpp”) or 1-800/517-4652

LEAP Feasibility Study Consulting Engineer

Brian Swindell, P.E. HDR Engineering, Inc. brian.swindell@hdrinc.com  

 

U.S. Senators

Kay Bailey Hutchison U. S. Senate; Washington, D.C. 20510 http://hutchison.senate.gov/contact.html

John Cornyn 512 Hart SOB; Washington, D.C. 20510 http://cornyn.senate.gov/public/

U.S. Representative Dist. 23

Ciro D. Rodriguez 2458 Rayburn House OB; Washington, D.C. 20515 http://www.rodriguez.house.gov/

Texas State Senate Dist. 19

Carlos Uresti 2530 SW Military Dr Ste103; San AntonioTX 78224 http://www.uresti.senate.state.tx.us/

Texas House of Reps. Dist. 74

Pete Gallego P.O. Box 777; Alpine, TX 79831 http://www.house.state.tx.us/members/dist74/gallego.htm

To find your own state and federal representatives’ contact info, enter your address at:

http://www.senate.state.tx.us/75r/senate/members.htm#FYI

The “No Build Option”

 Last week Brian Swindell, with HDR Consultants recommended a “no build option” based on current and projected freight traffic at the Presidio Port of Entry. The numbers are based on a formula considering various scenarios of traffic originating from a future deep water port at Topolabampo, Mexico and the Chihuahua maquiladora industry. The maximum projected  number of 729 trucks crossing daily through the Presidio PoE by 2030 does not warrant the expense of an expanded 4 lane trade corridor. PERIOD. DONE…..No we’re not done yet. TxDot and HDR are continuing to investigate alternate reliever routes. What is the point with that, when projected freight volume is not there?
So why does the study continue? Marfa’s, John Wotowicz has presented a clear-succinct-presentation.pdf of where we are, with this scam. It has to stop now, before more tax payers money is spent, and lastly, take down the La Entrada trade corridor signs along our highways.

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 .

Fran Sage, 2/7/08, Part Two

LA ENTRADA AT THE CROSSROADS, PART TWO

BY FRAN SAGE

At the February 19th hearing in Alpine, Brian Swindell and his HDR consulting team will present where they are in the feasibility study and where they will go next. They are at a juncture, the point where they will recommend whether the four lane La Entrada al Pacifico looks viable and the remainder of the study would work out the details on that assumption OR the point where they have determined the four lane route is not feasible and the remainder of the study would focus on local area safety and mobility issues. While some number crunching remains to be done, the recommendation will be ready at the upcoming meeting. The decision, however, will not be firm until public responses have been heard and any revisions made in light of that response have been completed. The consulting team has gathered enough data to feel confident in their method and statistical model projecting the freight diversion growth through the port of Presidio.

 

Citizens at the four meetings will be elated or upset or possibly in some cases indifferent.

Those of us in the tri-city area of Alpine, Fort Davis, and Marfa hope that the results of the La Entrada study indicate that minimal freight traffic will be coming our way, and that the need to plan for a continuing threat from significantly increased truck traffic will fade away. One caution however, with the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) functioning, we can expect growth even if the Mexican route does not happen.

 

Readers may go to the La Entrada website for the Executive Summary, the full report, a list of the sources, a discussion of the methodology and the conclusions, though the recommendation on where to go from here will not be available until the meeting.

 

Note that the report is primarily a statistical study, though some other factors have been taken into account. The Freight Forecast Results are presented for three possible results:

 

(1) A “no build scenario with no significant highway improvements to the LEAP Corridor on either the U. S. or Mexican side of the border;

(2) Completion of Mexican port and highway prior to 2020;

(3) Completion of Mexican port and highway after 2030. The study’s projected limit is 2030.

Below is a table illustrating the number of trucks for each scenario.

 

COMPARISON OF ANTICIPATED FREIGHT FORECASTS

THROUGH PRESIDIO

Average Annual Daily Truck Traffic

Scenario Considered

Description

2010

2015

2020

2025

2030

Baseline

· Internal Mexico Growth

44

60

82

112

152

Prior to 2020

· All necessary Mexico Infrastructure completed prior to the year 2020

· Diversion from other Ports of Entry

· Internal Mexico Growth

47

125

195

456

739

After 2030

· Diversion from other Ports of Entry

· Internal Mexico Growth

· Mexican Route not completed by 2030

47

125

174

243

338

Because traffic forecasts have an element of uncertainty, the projections could overestimate or underestimate future traffic within the timeframe. Therefore, a threshold table will serve as a safeguard; that is, no action would be taken unless future activity indicates that the threshold would soon be reached. The threshold discussion will be general with a closer look later when needed. The table will show varying levels of congestion.

 

Before going further in our discussion, we need to remind ourselves that what led to this study in the first place was the growing belief that United States ports of entry would reach capacity and that Mexican ports would be developed to gain the trade currently passing into the United States. The NAFTA agreement would allow traffic to flow in from Mexico at various border ports of entry.

 

The team looked first at possible diversion of Asian goods from the Port of Los Angeles and the Port of Long Beach in California. Judgments were made as to how much of that trade might come to the Port of Topolobampo, assuming that the necessary work had been completed at the port. That is a major assumption and is dependent 1) on the expansion of the port facilities (including container terminals) and the dredging of the port to accommodate larger container vessels; and 2) improvements to the Mexican highway between Topolobampo and Chihuahua City including through Copper Canyon.

 

But the team needed to look at other variables such as the Lazaro Cárdenas port further down the Mexican west coast, currently being expanded with a new terminal and port facilities and connections to a rail route across Mexico and into Texas at Laredo. Other variables include the potential for the Puerto Colonet on the Pacific coast of Baja California being developed. It would be a huge port that could handle sizeable amounts of trade currently going to Los Angeles and Long Beach. The port at Manzanilla much further down the Mexican west coast was also considered.

 

The team also assessed the Texas Gulf Coast Ports and other ports of entry into Texas, looking at how much traffic would be diverted.

 

In terms of Mexican freight growth, the team assessed the overall economic growth in Mexico and the impact of this growth on freight destined to the U. S. In addition, recent trends for maquiladoras were considered.

 

I recommend looking at the Executive Summary for discussion of these efforts.

 

Next week I will discuss other items for discussion at the February 19th meeting including safety and mobility improvement and alternative routes.

 

I URGE ALL CITIZENS TO COME TO THE MEETINGS, LISTEN TO THE PRESENTATION AND ASK QUESTIONS AND COMMENT. BOTH THE CONSULTING TEAM AND TxDOT KNOW THAT THE TRI CITY AREAS IN THE BIG BEND OPPOSE THE LA ENTRADA. THE TASK NOW AT HAND IS TO UNDERSTAND THE FREIGHT GROWTH PROJECTIONS AND RAISE ANY MATTERS RELATED TO THEM.

 

The public meetings are scheduled as follows:

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 .

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 .

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.”