Category Archives: TXDOT

Texas Department of Transportation

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



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 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.




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 and to the Stewards of the Big Bend website .

Fran Sage, 2/7/08, Part Two



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.




Average Annual Daily Truck Traffic

Scenario Considered








· Internal Mexico Growth






Prior to 2020

· All necessary Mexico Infrastructure completed prior to the year 2020

· Diversion from other Ports of Entry

· Internal Mexico Growth






After 2030

· Diversion from other Ports of Entry

· Internal Mexico Growth

· Mexican Route not completed by 2030






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.




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 and to the Stewards of the Big Bend website .

Fran Sage, 1/31/08, Part One



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:


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


Wednesday February 20, 2008

Presidio High School

1000 East FM 170

Presidio, Texas 79845


Monday February 25, 2008

Center for Energy & Economic Diversification (CEED) – UTPB

1400 North F.M. 1788
Midland, TX 79706


Tuesday February 26, 2008

Fort Stockton High School

1200 West 17th Street

Ft. Stockton, Texas 79735


All of these articles will be posted as finished to the Big Bend Regional Sierra Club website at and to the Stewards of the Big Bend website .

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






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.”

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.
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 , or . 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 .

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 (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.