Texas agency gives green light to failed toll developer for dump of foreign toxic waste

Link to article here.

Texas agency approves dump for foreign, toxic waste in Laredo
By Terri Hall
April 14, 2016

In a move that threatens the health, safety, and sovereignty of South Texans, the state’s environmental policemen, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), granted preliminary approval for a toxic waste dump to failed toll road developer Carlos ‘C.Y.’ Benavides III, whose last deal in South Texas, the Camino Columbia toll road in Laredo, went bankrupt. According to the San Antonio Express-News, the facility known as the Pescadito Environmental Resource Center is designed to accept waste across an 800-mile perimeter. Yet the region has excess landfill capacity — 138-year capacity according to the South Texas Council of Governments — making this landfill clearly binational aimed at accepting toxic, foreign waste from deep inside Mexico.

Benavides’ last big venture, the 21.8-mile Camino Columbia toll road, connected Laredo, Texas, with the Mexican state of Nuevo Leon. It quickly failed to live up to traffic expectations and the $90 million private toll road landed in bankruptcy court where the state paid $12 million for it. However, Texas taxpayers, national banks, and other companies still lost $75 million in unpaid project debt.

Congress advances NAFTA superhighways in FAST Act

Link to article here.

Congress quietly moves NAFTA superhighway corridors forward in FAST Act
By Terri Hall
February 1, 2016
Selous Foundation for Public Policy Research

Such NAFTA international trade has all but destroyed the American manufacturing base, it threatens U.S. jobs and has contributed to stagnant wages since its inception in 1992. So the funding and expansion of the NAFTA trade corridors coupled with the porous southern border create another source of angst for American voters as they weigh the current presidential contenders.

CANAMEX map AMC 2014 thTucked into the 1,300-page federal highway bill, ‘Fixing America’s Surface Transportation’ Act, or FAST Act, that passed at the end of 2015, Congress quietly advanced several corridors of the NAFTA superhighway system, like Interstate-11. The interstate will connect Phoenix to Las Vegas and will ultimately run from Nogales, Arizona to northeast Washington State, establishing key trade corridors from Mexico to Canada.

The FAST Act is the first long-term highway bill to pass in over a decade, but it failed to enact any major reforms, failed to shore-up the funding shortfall in the federal highway program, and keeps most federal programs, like the NAFTA superhighways, euphemistically called high priority corridors, on auto-pilot for the next 5 years quietly eluding public scrutiny, while advancing the establishment’s global trade agenda.

Perry Legacy: Unpopular, failed toll road policy

Link to article here.

Governor proposes a toll road plan 'as big as Texas'
Aman Batheja | Texas Tribune | Posted: January 7, 2015

Rick Perry was just a year into his tenure as governor when he proposed the Trans-Texas Corridor, a massive 4,000-mile network of privately operated toll roads, railroad tracks and utility lines that would take 50 years to build.

“This plan is as big as Texas and as ambitious as our people,” Perry said at the first of many events touting the project.

The corridor he envisioned would never become a reality, but he still managed to leave his mark on the state’s approach to funding roads. Under his leadership, Texas has been the country’s most aggressive supporter of tolling and private-sector investment in transportation.

Foreign company seeks eminent domain for its high speed rail scheme

Link to article here.

You bet this high speed rail scheme by a foreign company revives the opposition that ensured with the Trans Texas Corridor. Under NO circumstances should a private entity have the power of eminent domain for its own private profit. Texans have Constitutional protection against such and lawmakers had better take note before they try to abuse property rights so a foreign company can profit from high speed rail in Texas.

The Politics of High-Speed Rail in Texas
by Aman Batheja
Texas Tribune
October 9, 2013

The current political calculus is pretty simple: If the Obama administration is in favor of something, Republicans will be against it. In recent years, high-speed rail has been added to that list as Vice President Joe Biden, a longtime rail enthusiast, has touted federal proposals to fund projects around the country in the face of GOP opposition.

Ports to Plains Trans Texas Corridor in progress in Dawson County

Link to article here.

Ports to Plains is one of the Trans Texas Corridor (TTC) trade corridors. There are no traffic jams in this county of a population of only 13,000. These road improvements are being made to build the TTC piece-by-piece to facilitate global trade and the transport of cheap Chinese goods into America and the free flow of people and goods across the Texas-Mexico border.

Dawson County road work to improve South Plains connections to Permian Basin
TxDOT plans projects on US 87, Texas 349 south of Lamesa
By Adam D. Young
Lubbock Online.com
June 5, 2013

Road crews have their work cut out for them this fall and in 2014 on Dawson County highways connecting the South Plains with the Permian Basin.

The Texas Department of Transportation last week earmarked $11.2 million for roadway improvements and repairs to nearly 20 miles of US 87 south of Lamesa — just months after the department allocated up to $17 million to a project to widen a portion of Texas 349 between Lamesa and Midland.

Trans Texas Corridor update: Hwy 59 gets I-69 designation

Link to article here.

This is the next step in creating a NAFTA superhighway trade corridor through east Texas. I-69 used to be known as Trans Texas Corridor 69 (TTC-69) and was going to fall into the hands of ACS, a Spanish toll operator, who was awarded the initial development rights but eventually found the project to be unprofitable and never entered into a final public private partnership contract.

Portions of US 59 lined with new IH 69 signs
By Cory Stottlemyer
Ft. Bend News
April 15, 2013

In February, the Texas Transportation Commission designated 28.4 miles of US 59 from the south side of Rosenberg to the 610 loop as part of Interstate 69. This month, signs are being officially planted along the strip of highway to designate it as both I-69 and US 59.

Texas Department of Transportation’s Houston District crews are currently installing the signs. I-69 will ultimately become a 1,600-mile-long highway stretching from Michigan to Texas. The U.S. Congress has already designated three highway segments in South Texas as equal parts of the I-69 Priority Corridor: US 77 route from Brownsville to Victoria, the US 281 route north from McAllen and the US 59 route from Texarkana to Victoria.

Trans Texas Corridor? Oklahoma-Texas rail corridor

Link to press release here.

The Trans Texas Corridor is no more dead than I am. This press release from TxDOT proves it. Throw Loop 9 into the mix and the original vision is right in front of our eyes.

TxDOT Press Release

Texas-Oklahoma Passenger Rail Study

Texas’ population and economy are booming, with much of its growth occurring in the already-congested I-35 corridor. While TxDOT continues to explore roadway improvements to keep all of us and our economy moving, other options, such as passenger rail service, fit the needs of many travelers and would reduce demand on the state’s roadways. Through the Texas-Oklahoma Passenger Rail Study, TxDOT will consider how passenger rail service could fit into this corridor.

Rail plan of Trans Texas Corridor lives on

Link to article here.

This rail plan is part and parcel of the Trans Texas Corridor (TTC). It's also no coincidence that this uptick in interest in rail occurs when several bills have been filed in the Texas legislature to give TxDOT the authority to enter into controversial public private partnerships (the financing mechanism of the TTC) to build the rail components of the TTC without the radioactive name.

TxDOT to hold meetings about potential rail corridor to Oklahoma
Posted on March 26, 2013

The Texas Department of Transportation will hold three meetings in the North Texas area over the next two weeks looking for input on the possibility of a Texas-Oklahoma passenger rail.
The possible 850-mile stretch of rail would go from Oklahoma City to South Texas in order to alleviate some of the heavily condensed traffic along roads like Interstate 35, according to Mark Cross, an information specialist for TxDOT.

Trans Texas Corridor redux? I-69 presses forward

Whether they call it a different name or not, I-69 is Trans Texas Corridor TTC-69 and needs to be done as a free interstate or not at all. The primary purpose is to move freight, not people, and trucks have already proven with their wheels that they won't take a toll road. Look no further than the failing SH 130 bypass around Austin. Any day of the week, any time of the day, two lanes of I-35 remain stacked with 18 wheelers who refuse to pay $50 one way to bypass congestion by taking SH 130. They'll sit in congestion rather than lose that much money taking toll roads. Even worse, the original intent was to make TTC-69 a foreign-owned toll road where the taxation is in the hands of a foreign company who charges much higher toll rates.

Officials seeking progress on I-69 planning
By Peggy Fikac and Dug Begley
February 7, 2013
San Antonio Express-News

AUSTIN — An ambitious multibillion-dollar effort to push forward a new interstate spanning Texas was highlighted at the Texas Capitol on Wednesday as lawmakers struggle with transportation funding needs.

The Texas leg of the Interstate 69 project would stretch from the Lower Rio Grande Valley to Texarkana, tracking U.S. 77 and U.S. 281 in South Texas and U.S. 59 in the Houston area north.
Officials called the project, estimated to cost $16 billion in some mix of primarily state and federal money, important to safety and economic development as goods move north to the Midwest and northeast.

Read more: http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/local_news/article/Officials-seeking-progress-on-I-69-planning-4257510.php#ixzz2Mj0RRNgh

High speed rail plan gets resurrected at Irving conference

Link to article here.

This High Speed Rail (HSR) plan is part and parcel of the original Trans Texas Corridor (TTC) concept. While the backers promise no taxpayer money will be involved, TxDOT is already expending untold amounts of money and resources at it through developing a rail plan and various taxpayer-funded studies. Rick Perry also promised the TTC wouldn't use any taxpayer money, and more than $90 million was expended before it's 'official' repeal last year. But it's these HSR plans, along with other multi-modal links to inland ports, and major trade corridors like Interstate 69, where the TTC lives on under a different name.

Buyer beware! Texans didn't like a foreign company, Spain-based Cintra, controlling our infrastructure in these public private partnerships for the TTC, so the prospect of a Japanese company engaging in another public private partnership (PPP) for HSR, is no less controversial. PPPs are NOT private. The word public is in there for a reason, usually for taxpayer subsidies, eminent domain, non-compete clauses, fare or toll collection, and/or access to taxpayer-backed low interest loans. Naturally, as Cintra did, they hire some big local names, former politicians like Gary Fickes and Robert Eckels and they think it'll quell Texas' aversion to foreign-ownership of infrastructure. It's a states rights and state sovereignty issue that special interests and big business just fail to understand.

Private Firm Planning Bullet Trains in Texas by 2020

IRVING – The leaders of Texas Central High-Speed Railway sound very confident for a company expecting to succeed where scores of state planners, elected officials and private interests have failed.

The firm hopes to have bullet trains moving Texans at 205 miles per hour between Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston by 2020.

The bit that has raised eyebrows: The company plans to do it without seeking public financing.

“We are not the traditional state-run railroad,” Robert Eckels, the company's president and a former Harris County judge, said at a high-speed rail forum in Irving on Tuesday. “This is designed to be a profitable high-speed rail system that will serve the people of these two great cities and in between and, ultimately, the whole state of Texas.”

Backing the Texas-based company is a group led by Central Japan Railway Company, which handles more than 100 million passengers each year on its bullet trains in Japan.

Loop 9, road to DFW inland port, on fastrack ahead of Panama Canal expansion

Link to article here.

Road to inland port on fast track ahead of Panama Canal expansion

The Trans Texas Corridor (TTC) lives on. Texas officials and transportation industry leaders gathered in Irving for the annual Texas Transportation Summit to examine how to move people and goods faster. One of the hot topics was to fast track the Loop 9 project just south of Dallas -- a project that’s part of the original Trans Texas Corridor due to its strategic connection to the International Inland Port of Dallas. The TTC is the Texas leg of the NAFTA superhighways designed to achieve the economic integration of the United States with Canada and Mexico through trade.

Though officials gave lip service to moving people faster, it was clear the real goal of the conference was to get the coming influx of imported goods moving faster in anticipation of the Panama Canal expansion opening in 2014. Loop 9 would connect trade traffic coming up from the Port of Houston on Interstate 45 with the inland port outside Dallas as well as access from I-35E.

One of the advantages of inland ports is the ability to move the task of sorting and processing international cargo through customs inland, as well as create hubs that optimize logistics and distribution of foreign-made goods. Often referred to as an intermodal transfer, an inland port can serve as a distribution center to off-load containers from one mode of transportation to another, ie - from rail to truck. Inland ports also usually reside in markets outside urban areas, reducing labor and property costs.

Road to inland port on fast track ahead of Panama Canal expansion

The Trans Texas Corridor (TTC) lives on. Texas officials and transportation industry leaders gathered in Irving for the annual Texas Transportation Summit to examine how to move people and goods faster. One of the hot topics was to fast track the Loop 9 project just south of Dallas -- a project that’s part of the original Trans Texas Corridor due to its strategic connection to the International Inland Port of Dallas. The TTC is the Texas leg of the NAFTA superhighways designed to achieve the economic integration of the United States with Canada and Mexico through trade.

Rosy traffic forecasts used to push I-69

Link to article here.

How many times have we heard this before and it never comes to fruition? There can be no doubt that Texas is a growing state. But the traffic boom being predicted for the future Interstate I-69, one of the NAFTA superhighways formerly known as the Trans Texas Corridor, isn't as much about people as it is about moving goods. I-69 is a NAFTA trade route to benefit multi-national companies importing goods from the deep water port in Mexico called Lazaro Cardenas into the interior of the United States and eventually into Canada, not the average Texan.

Also, since I-69 will primarily entail upgrades to US Hwy 59 and since there's no identified funds to complete it, it's likely to be a toll road. What we're seeing on US 281, US 290, parts of Hwy 183, and elsewhere, is TxDOT exploiting divided highways that have stop lights at the crossovers by converting them to toll lanes once it's upgraded to a controlled access highway with overpasses, leaving frontage roads as the only non-toll option. So Texans beware. All this propaganda is designed to persuade the public that this future toll road is necessary to accommodate future growth. In reality, the priority needs to be fixing the congestion that's already here in our urban areas before we sink massive state resources into a trade route for big business.

Houston's I-69 traffic expected to soar to 350,000 by 2035

Updated 10:35 a.m., Monday, August 6, 2012

If you think the Southwest Freeway is a nightmare at rush hour now, check back in 20 years.

As the transformation of U.S. 59 in Houston to Interstate 69 continues, projections show an increase in traffic of up to 150 percent by 2035. Experts say traffic will increase regardless of whether the so-called NAFTA Superhighway, envisioned two decades ago as a trade route from Mexico through Houston to Canada, is fully built.

Gov. Rick Perry initially proposed a more elaborate Trans-Texas Corridor that would be an entirely new thoroughfare that included room for rail and utilities. But that plan was defeated by farm and ranch groups championing property rights and others opposed to a toll road component.

Now the pared-down plan calls for using existing roads, some of which must be upgraded to divided four-lane highways with access roads. Also, dangerous grade-level streets crossing these highways must be replaced with overpasses.

Grass-roots committees appointed by the Texas Transportation Commission to study how to make the 1,000-mile trek through Texas unanimously endorsed dual use of U.S. 59 for the new interstate as it winds from Texarkana through Houston to Laredo. The committees also included two other highways that branch off U.S. 59 - U.S. 77 for motorists traveling to Brownsville and U.S. 281 for those going to McAllen.

300% freight increase

Houston's segment, which already experiences traffic pileups and is not scheduled for any expansion under the plan, would be hit with the largest increase in traffic volume on Texas' interstate route.

"But that traffic is coming to us no matter what we do. We are going to see a huge increase in freight — more than 300 percent in a little over a decade," said a committee member, Ashby Johnson, the Houston-Galveston Area Council's deputy transportation director. "Some of it is coming from NAFTA and some of it's from the widening of the Panama Canal."

Besides increased trade, the Houston region must grapple with rapid population growth. The area is expected to reach 8.8 million by 2035 - a 51 percent increase.

That same year, traffic is expected to leap 60 percent to 350,000 vehicles daily, including 24,000 trucks, in the stretch of 59 that wraps around downtown Houston.

Outlying stretches of this highway are projected to experience a 150 percent increase, to 225,000 vehicles, near Porter in Montgomery County and 240,000 near Sugar Land in Fort Bend County, according to the report by the grass-roots committee.

No expansion planned

Nonetheless, the report does not call for expansion of that stretch of roadway. It does recommend exploring traffic relief options such as a bypass around the city for those traveling long distances.

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, a grass-roots committee member, said developing a plan to deal with the traffic is critical.

"Everyone agreed a bypass needs to be done," he said. "It's something that's been talked about for years, but it all costs money."

He would like to see a bypass on the county's east side that connects to the new interstate south of Wharton and reconnects north of Cleveland. Others, like Sierra Club transportation expert Dick Kallerman, would like to see tracks added to rail lines along this route so it could handle more freight.

"The Legislature has got to start adequately funding transportation. Within a couple of years, we'll only be able to maintain existing roads," Emmett said. "Then if goods can't be moved around adequately, that economic miracle we've seen in Texas will come to a grinding halt."

Perry's spokesman, Josh Havens, said the Legislature will review potential funding for the new interstate in January. He said it's too early to say what the governor will recommend.

The estimated cost of upgrades for the new interstate, excluding the 200 miles in Harris County, is $16.5 billion, the report said.

$626 million allocated

To date, the state has allocated $626 million for small projects along the route, including $40 million to widen the roadway and provide road access control in Liberty County and $13.6 million for a new overpass in Fort Bend County.

"We don't have the funds to do it all at once. The $16 billion price tag represents two years of our entire operating budget and would leave us with nothing else to do maintenance and potholes," said Doise Miers, the transportation department's community liaison. She noted almost two-thirds of the new interstate is in Texas.

Yet committee members believe the new interstate provides a critical link to national infrastructure for trade and transportation, especially since the Houston region contains the state's largest port and manufacturing center.

"I-69 is a big deal for our state," Haven said. "In order for Texas to remain the economic powerhouse it has been over the past decade, we must have an adequate transportation system."

TxDOT seeks to lease public right-of-way for commercial purposes

Link to article here.

TxDOT's plan to lease out the public's right-of-way for a for-profit commercial purpose tramples on private property rights. When someone's land is forcibly taken through eminent domain for a 'public use,' it should NEVER be handed over to a another private party for private gain. The original landowners should be afforded the right to develop their property alongside the roadway, not have government take it and hand it over to the special few in a revenue sharing scheme with the State of Texas.

This plan is almost identical to the Trans Texas Corridor (TTC) that Texans abhor. One of the primary reasons Texans opposed the TTC was precisely because of the land grab that would have forcibly taken their land through eminent domain and handed their property to another private party in a government-sanctioned monopoly. The State has no business selling gas, putting up hotels, or restaurants. That's the private sector's job. TURF will be active in defeating this incarnation of the TTC in the next legislative session.

TxDOT considers toll plaza with food, gas in Texas 130 median

By Ben Wear


Published: 10:12 p.m. Friday, July 13, 2012

Enlarge Photo

The Texas Department of Transportation is considering development of an unusually wide median area on the Texas 130 toll road near Texas 71 east of Austin, potentially leasing the land to investors to build and operate a gas station, store or restaurant that drivers could use without leaving the tollway.

Although such highway plazas are common in other states and overseas, it would be a first for Texas.

Though the idea is still far from reality, it has drawn critics. Anti-toll-road activist Terri Hall said such an initiative undermines free enterprise and would use once-private land, possibly obtained through eminent domain laws, to enrich the state.

TxDOT in June published a "request for information," asking interested companies to respond by July 25 with the outlines of what they might install and how such a lease with the state could be structured. An agency spokesman on Friday emphasized the preliminary nature of the initiative. A second, formal bidding process would have to occur before TxDOT reaches a deal.

"This is exploratory," TxDOT spokesman Mark Cross told the American-Statesman. "What they're looking to do is to find a way to increase the revenue and enhance the customer service along the tollway."

Cross said the agency is not considering a similar arrangement at any other place along Texas 130 or the other three Central Texas tollways owned by the agency. TxDOT, in its agreement with a private consortium to extend Texas 130 another 41 miles to Seguin, retained exclusive rights for this sort of development. That section of road should open this fall, officials said Friday.

State law allows TxDOT to lease land on its tollways for only a handful of uses: gas stations, garages, stores, hotels, restaurants, railroad tracks, utilities and telecommunications facilities and equipment.

The wide median was a staging area and concrete plant for the tollway's construction before that section's 2007 opening. Cross said it was envisioned as a spot for a possible toll plaza since construction of the road. The area is 2,875 feet long and 450 feet wide, or about 30 acres, the TxDOT document indicates.

The TxDOT solicitation includes a schematic, labeled "for illustrative purposes only," of what might end up in the median, including car and truck parking areas and a 19,000-square-foot convenience store and restaurant.

The document also touts the growing traffic potential of Texas 130, which six years after opening still has light traffic on its four lanes. The document includes maps showing 2010 daily average traffic along various points of the road, including about 20,200 cars and trucks a day at the potential development site. By 2035, TxDOT expects that traffic there will have more than tripled to about 77,500 vehicles a day, according to the solicitation.

About 215,000 vehicles a day pass through Austin on Interstate 35, according to a 2010 count.

The document points out that there are no similar facilities within four miles.

The Texas 130 corridor, with some exceptions near Pflugerville and the coming Circuit of the Americas racetrack, has been slow to develop. But David Roche, the managing principal and a retail specialist with Endeavor Real Estate Group, said he could see small-scale commercial development being successful at the location.

"Yeah, I think it would, providing you have some signage saying it's coming," Roche said. "I don't see a hotel there though. And if they ground-lease, they could stagger the payments so they're much smaller now and increase as the volume of traffic increases."

Hall, the activist who is from Comal County, characterized the possible facility as an improper intrusion of government into private enterprise. Any developers who might open shop in the median, she said, would have a competitive advantage over restaurateurs or service station operators who might hope to operate similar facilities on private land alongside Texas 130.

"Who's going to have that be financially viable when TxDOT has a captive audience, a monopoly inside the tollway?" Hall said. "TxDOT condemned that land. It was supposed to be in the public use for a road. But now TxDOT is getting in the development business, and is picking winners and losers.

"It may be the norm other places, but we see it for what it is. It's a threat to property rights on its face."

Chris Newton, president of the Texas Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association, said his organization has generally opposed commercializing rest areas along highways. "We're obviously concerned whenever state government begins taking property used for a public purpose and considers how it could be used for a private purpose."

Cross, asked for a reaction to Hall's criticism, sent an email quoting a passage from the request for information that did not directly address the government-
private sector balance.

"The department is dedicated to providing a safe and efficient system of tolled highways," Cross wrote, "while ensuring the highest possible level of service and efficiency to its customers."

Texas 'isn't ready' for influx from Panama Canal expansion

Link to article here.

Texas isn't ready for bigger ships from Panama Canal expansion

Gordon Dickson | The Fort Worth Star-Telegram

May 28, 2012

Texas and other Gulf states may not be ready when their ship comes in.

A massive expansion of the Panama Canal is on track to be completed in about two years, making it possible for huge ships often carrying goods from Asia to bypass their usual stops in the Los Angeles/Long Beach area and instead sail directly to Texas and other states along the Gulf of Mexico, as well as the East Coast. From there, the freight could be put on trains and trucks and shipped across the country -- potentially generating billions of dollars and creating thousands of jobs not only on the coasts but also in major inland hubs such as Dallas-Fort Worth.

But Texas and other Gulf states are woefully unprepared to handle the goods brought to the area on enormous ships soon to pass through the canal, several experts said. The region's ports aren't deep enough to handle the ships, although the Port of Houston plans to deepen its berths in front of its container terminals to 45 feet by 2014. Still, farther inland, highways and rail lines lack the capacity for additional freight traffic.

Officials in those states are scrambling to calculate what kinds of transportation improvements need to be made and how to pay for them. It's unlikely that major infrastructural improvements will be completed by the scheduled August 2014 opening date of the new canal locks, so advocates say the real question is how many years will go by before the states on the southern end of America's breadbasket make a genuine effort to steer more of the shipping business their way.

"Really, we're not ready. We've been kind of sitting on our toes for the last two years because of the economy," said Tim Welch, a North Richland Hills city councilman and chairman of Transportation Excellence for the 21st Century, a Dallas-area group that advocates for regionwide mobility funding.

Welch visited the canal in 2010 as part of his TEX-21 duties and plans to go again this year. He sees the widening as a potential boon to North Texas, where companies such as Fort Worth-based BNSF Railway are in a good position to handle additional freight from facilities such as the Intermodal Yard in Haslet.

"We can actually feed the north and central parts of the United States, but we need to get on the ball and focus on our transportation needs," Welch said. "With these big supercontainers, no one has really looked down the future and said, 'Are we ready for this?' We have a great opportunity: With where Texas is located and with inland ports, we can actually get a lot of freight out of Houston and up the major highways of Interstate 35 and 45.

"It's going to be a lot of competition in these states to increase the capacity."

But not everyone agrees that the canal expansion will cause a spike in Gulf Coast shipments.

"It's been our position for quite some time that the impact of the new Panama Canal lock will be relatively minimal," said John Lanigan, BNSF executive vice president and chief marketing officer. BNSF specializes in hauling shipments from West Coast seaports to inland destinations.

A shipment going through the canal and arriving at Houston could take 10 days to two weeks longer to reach its destination than a shipment arriving at a West Coast seaport with a rail connection, he said.

"It's generally based on where it's going to be consumed and how long it's going to take to get there," Lanigan said.

But he agreed that Texas and other states should plan for growth at all seaports and ground transportation connections.

"We think ports over time are going to grow because the population is going to grow," he said. "Anything that makes the supply chain more efficient, which this will, is good for the economy."

Canal makeover

The canal expansion is the biggest project there since original construction was completed in 1914. The canal, which the U.S. handed over to Panama in 1999, can handle ships up to 106 feet wide, 965 feet long and 39 feet deep but after expansion will be able to handle ships up to 161 feet wide, 1,200 feet long and 49 feet deep. Some of those larger ships can carry nearly triple the cargo of the ships going through the canal today.

But will any of those boats stop in the Gulf, or will they simply go to the East Coast or elsewhere in the Atlantic Ocean? The U.S. lacks deep-water ports on its southern shores, with limited options between Los Angeles and Norfolk, Va., officials said.

In many instances, those ports can use federal funds or raise their own dollars through debt to make the necessary improvements.

As for highways and rail lines, there are scant resources for new projects. But existing dollars, including funding from state and federal motor fuels taxes, could be steered toward projects that benefit freight movement.

Texas response

The Texas Transportation Department, for example, is creating a canal stakeholder working group to give input in the state's planning for roads, rail and other parts of the grid. The working group includes BNSF, the Texas Farm Bureau, Texas Motor Transportation Association and Texas Association of Manufacturers.

The idea is to develop multiple Texas ports for deep-water vessels and build roads and rail lines to support them, said Bill Meadows of Fort Worth, a Texas Transportation Commission member who has also been to the canal.

"Texas doesn't need to be picking between Corpus Christi and Houston. Let them all have their competitive gigs going on," Meadows said. "TxDOT is going to put together a state marketing plan that highlights the connectivity features of the state's transportation system. Our $1.4 billion expansion of Interstate 35 figures prominently into this discussion -- and I-35W and I-35E expansion [in Fort Worth and Dallas] figure prominently into the discussion."

The working group will be asked to put together a document over the next six months or so highlighting how goods from the canal could be shipped into the interior of the U.S. after arriving at a Texas port.

Last week in Houston, a state House interim transportation committee held a meeting to take comments about the potential impact of canal freight. Additional funds of $1 billion to $3.5 billion may be needed to prepare roads, rail lines and other transportation components for the additional freight, one official testified.

But the state shouldn't be left paying that bill by itself, said committee chairman and state Rep. Larry Phillips, R-Sherman.

"There's a federal fee charged on containers that goes to the federal government, and they get $125 million to $135 million in Houston. We get about $25 million back," Phillips told the Star-Telegram in a phone interview.

He said he toured the Port of Houston last week and learned of its plans to pay for improvements including the dredging, as well as installing larger cranes to accommodate the bigger ships. The improvements could cost up to $150 million and are being paid for locally because Port of Houston officials say applying for federal funding could delay the project by a decade.

But Phillips said that many other improvements will be needed and that the region should ask for federal dollars for those projects.

"We have to address at-grade crossings through the Harris County area to get to San Antonio or Dallas or Fort Worth or other places around the state," he said. "We have to look at investing in rail relocation. The other thing is what the highways can take. We hope the federal government will help return our tax dollars and help make those investments in our ports and infrastructure."

Public pitch

Officials who support increased funding for freight movement across Texas may face resistance from the public, which rejected Gov. Rick Perry's vision for the Trans-Texas Corridor, a planned statewide grid of toll roads, rail lines and utilities that was abandoned several years ago because of opposition from thousands of residents.

Many components of the Trans-Texas Corridor plan live on, however, in the state's transportation planning. For example, one group recently submitted a proposal to build a freight rail line parallel to the Interstate 35 corridor, and the proposal is being evaluated by the Transportation Department.

But Phillips believes that Texans are regaining confidence in the Transportation Department, which in recent years has undergone two sunset reviews and had a leadership change.

For example, Welch said, the Port of Freeport estimates its return on investment in widening its channel will be $2 for every $1 spent.

Phillips believes the public will support investment in projects that improve freight movement if they're convinced that the return is worthwhile.

"We had to go through a restructuring of TxDOT," he said, "so the citizens know their dollars were going to be invested wisely."

Nichols dubbed Mr. Trans Texas Corridor

Link to article here.

Senator Robert Nichols Dubbed Mr. Trans Texas Corridor

Red State.com

Under the influence of lobbyists for private companies, State Senator Robert Nichols sold out Texas citizens by actively supporting the massive give-away of Texas assets known as the Trans Texas Corridor. As you may recall, the TTC called for 4000 miles of infrastructure corridors crisscrossing Texas. These corridors were to be the width of four football fields and carry everything from cars and trucks to oil and gas pipelines, power grids and even broadband internet data. And guess what? Everything that traveled these corridors would pay a toll: your electricity, your gas, your internet data, everything you buy that is shipped by road and, of course, you personally when you drive across Texas. And who receives most of the tolls? You guessed that also – the private companies that lobbied State Senator Robert Nichols and contributed to his election in an amount that made him the top lawmaker recipient of their largess behind only Dewhurst and Perry. If that is not enough to make you sick then consider this – the private companies are primarily foreign and not even Texas companies creating Texas jobs.

The TTC was indeed a massive give-away of Texas assets to private foreign companies. As estimated by these companies, the project as was expected to collect $114B in tolls but create only $8B in infrastructure for Texas. Living in Texas, you would pay this toll one way or another either directly or through added prices for everything that traveled the TTC. If paid by Texans, the share of this toll for a family of 4 would be $18,240.

The TTC idea was so bad that citizens became enraged and demanded an end to the project. Lawmakers responded and appeared to kill it. State Senator Robert Nichols stated as much in a press release that claimed “Nichols votes to abolish the Trans Texas Corridor”. However, he then brokered a deal with a Spanish Company that keeps it alive for one of the major corridors proposed in the original plan. It is not popular now to appear to support the TTC so Mr. Nichols introduced a bill, SB 220, with wording that apparently outlaws the project. After passage, another press release stated “Nichols’ bill to prevent the conversion of existing roads to toll roads passes Senate”. The wording in the bill does outlaw this conversion UNLESS a few things are true; and those things, when true, create a loophole as wide as a Trans Texas Corridor.

This loophole could allow the publicly funded roads that you have used for years to drive to work or the grocery store to become toll roads. For example: to improve traffic flow, private companies under state contracts can build a new road with an overpass to skirt a traffic light. This new road, including the overpass, becomes a toll road and the old road becomes the access road. So the misleading claims by Mr. Nichols are strictly true – the existing road is not a toll road, it just becomes a congested low speed access road paralleled by a high speed toll road.

Mr. Robert Nichols has been an advocate for toll roads in Texas including the TTC since 2005 when he was transportation commissioner for the state. SB 2702 (which he supported then) has the same loophole as SB 220 (which he authored recently as State Senator) allowing existing roads to be replaced by toll roads.

But why stop at just giving away our roads to private companies? If you think this is a good idea why not give away the rest of public infrastructure like schools, hospitals, and libraries? Mr. Nichols apparently believes this is also a good idea because he voted for SB 1048 written and advocated by, yes, a foreign company that grants authority to sell off every kind of public infrastructure. Once sold off you pay user fees to these new property owners for entering the buildings.

Really, why are Mr. Nichols and other lawmakers actually thinking of selling Texas to foreigners? If we are in that bad of financial shape then we need to stop spending, not start selling. Lawmakers that don’t understand this simple conservative principle do not deserve our support. Re-electing Robert Nichols, who advocates selling Texas, will most certainly put your free access to public Texas highways – and who knows what other public building – in jeopardy. He does not deserve your vote. Travel the smart road and elect Tammy Blair.

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