Its one big roadeo in Texas

March 21, 2002

When congestion strikes, people are treated like Texas cattle. Hundreds are trying to move in, but the gate is only so wide.

When congestion strikes, people are treated like Texas cattle. Hundreds are trying to move in, but the gate is only so wide.

But the one state familiar with handling such herds is looking to acquire more land. The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) is currently working on three major highway construction projects—the “Dallas High Five,” expansion on I-35 and the new I-69. All carry heavyweight numbers. The High Five is currently the largest job in TxDOT history, and the I-35 upgrade near Waco will cost about $1 billion and take 10 years to complete. The baby of the group will create more than just a baby rattle. I-69 will be a 1,000-mile-long highway through Texas and flaunts a $6 billion price tag. Environmental studies are currently under way, which could take three to five years, according to TxDOT spokesperson Gaby Garcia.

“This will be another interstate through Texas and is certainly needed,” Garcia told Roads & Bridges. “We expect to be at full speed with the environmental studies in the next few months.”

Due to its size, I-69 will touch a lot of lives long before pavers make an appearance, which makes any kind of impact evaluation critical. Endangered species, wetlands, pollution and social/economic effects are just a few of the areas TxDOT will investigate thoroughly. Right now, the corridor is 20-50 miles wide. The coverage area will be reduced after environmental studies reveal a “preferred alignment,” which will be sent to the Federal Highway Administration for approval.

“If this road was there how many businesses, roads would have to be relocated? How will this affect the community? Those are the answers we’re looking for and it’s a very long and intensive project that requires a lot of public meetings along the way,” said Garcia.

Receiving precious environmental clearance for a road project continues to be a problem in the U.S. TxDOT, however, is hoping the pressing need for such a system will put some speed into the process.

“We hope to be able to work with all of the agencies involved, be it federal, state or local, to get it moving,” said Garcia. “This is a high priority corridor that’s needed in Texas. We need to get it built.”

I-69 will cover the Rio Grande Valley and connect to ports along the Rio Grande River, and it also will serve as another leg to Laredo, which carries the busiest truck crossings in the country, according to Garcia. I-35 is the major corridor serving the region.

The new route will help move the economy, but TxDOT isn’t sure how the money will roll in. Since I-69 will serve North American Free Trade Agreement traffic from Mexico and Canada, officials are hoping the federal government will alleviate much of the financial pain. Garcia doesn’t know if there’s a shortage of state funds. Texas just completed its budget session—held every two years—last spring.

“We will be the bridge between the borders, so it will serve the entire nation,” she said. “Therefore, we don’t feel the state should be responsible for the entire cost of I-69 because it benefits more than one state.”

Texas can be grouped with the rest in terms of congestion. There are approximately 18 million registered vehicles covering 586 million travel miles a day in the state, and TxDOT expects those numbers to double in 25 years.

Brief budget update

The latest word from Washington is that legislation introduced on Feb. 7 in both houses of Congress to restore $4.4 billion to the federal highway program is gaining co-sponsors. By one account, the total number of co-sponsors for the House bill has risen to 190, including the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

President George W. Bush’s budget proposal for 2003 would cut highway spending by $8.6 billion, which would cause an estimated loss of as many as 180,000 jobs.

The legislation would bring highway funding back up to the $27.75 billion level authorized in TEA-21.

In testimony on Feb. 11 before the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee, Tom Hill, senior vice chairman of the American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA), urged the senators to maintain federal highway funding next year at the $31.8 billion level to save American jobs and prevent a serious disruption in state highway improvement programs.

Noting the $20 billion balance in the Highway Trust Fund, Hill urged the senators to use the trust fund to avert a cut in the highway program, a cut that was driven by a shortfall in predicted federal highway user-fee collections.

ARTBA pledges $1 million for Smithsonian exhibit

ARTBA has finalized its partnership with the Smithsonian Institution to support a state-of-the-art transportation exhibit at the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.

ARTBA has pledged $1 million to help finance the exhibit, called “America on the Move.”

The exhibit will provide a multi-media educational experience on the importance of transportation and its underlying infrastructure in the nation’s history, culture and economy. It is scheduled to open in November 2003.

“This exhibition and the collateral website, books, television programs and other planned activities will reach millions of Americans with the important transportation development story,” said ARTBA Chairman John Wight. “It is only fitting that ARTBA celebrate its 100th anniversary by joining with the world-renowned Smithsonian on an initiative that recognizes a century of work by the men and women of the transportation construction industry.”

Volvo to start rental chain

Volvo Construction Equipment, headquartered in Brussels, has announced that it will establish a chain of construction equipment rental outlets throughout North America and parts of Europe over the next couple of years.

To develop and implement this new rental strategy, Volvo CE recently founded a new company, Volvo Construction Equipment Rents.

“The development of the construction equipment rental business is a major new strategy for this company,” said Tony Helsham, a Volvo spokesman, “and one we feel is essential for the distribution of, among others, compact construction equipment, a significant segment of both the rental market and the Volvo product line. Volvo Construction Equipment’s highly versatile line of compact excavators and wheel loaders is perfect for rental applications. In addition, our recent acquisitions of a skid-steer loader line and a telehandler line, combined with the introduction of our backhoe loader, are key steps in building a comprehensive rental program focusing on the needs and requirements of our customers.”

In the unbridled, yet fragmented, growth of this market sector, according to a Volvo statement, Volvo CE sees an opportunity for an independent business that combines the strengths of entrepreneurial ownership and man- ufacturer support.

In North America, existing Volvo dealers will be given the first opportunity to open outlets in their territory.

Volvo Construction Equipment Rents is headed by Michael P. Farley, who is based in Brussels.

Price named manager for transportation security

David A. Price has been named to serve in a newly created position as the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) program manager for transportation security.

In his new capacity, Price advises the FHWA administrator and other senior officials on sensitive matters involving the protection of infrastructure and on the maintenance of transportation services during and after national or regional emergencies. He also serves as FHWA’s liaison to the new Transportation Security Agency.

Highway and bridge building grows 4% for the year

Total contracting for new construction slipped 1% from November to December to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $479.9 billion, according to the F.W. Dodge Division of McGraw-Hill Cos., New York. For all of 2001, total construction advanced 3% to $485.2 billion, marking the 10th straight year of expansion. The Dodge Index finished the year at 145, compared with a revised index of 146 for November and after starting the year at 153.

“The construction industry slipped back during the first half of 2001, but then proved to be one of the more resilient sectors of the economy as the year progressed,” said Robert A. Murray, vice president of economic affairs for F.W. Dodge.

Nonbuilding construction in December bounced back 16% after a weak November, with highway and bridge contracts up 62%, boosted by the start of a $332 million bridge project in the San Francisco area. The large increase for highways and bridges also was due to the comparison with November’s low contracting amount.

For the year, nonbuilding construction climbed 14% to $103.4 billion, with highways and bridges up 4%.

A thorny issue pulled from Virginia highways

During the past two years, Virginia drivers in several locations have had to swerve to avoid hitting migrating cedar waxwings. The birds gorge themselves on the berries of thorny elaeagnus bushes and then present a traffic hazard because they are too heavy for a normal flight takeoff. The bushes are planted in some highway medians.

The Virginia DOT has planted thorny elaeagnus within the road right-of-way for nearly two decades for beautification and to screen the glare from headlights, but these were the first such bird hazard incidents ever reported. A study completed by the College of William and Mary suggested that similar bird incidents could be expected in certain locations in April and May. To prevent repeat problems, the Virginia Department of Transportation started removing the bushes on Jan. 28 in areas most likely to be within the birds’ flight paths.

VDOT weighed several options and decided that the best solution was to remove the elaeagnus bushes. Working with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the agency developed a three-phase removal plan, which the Fish & Wildlife Service approved last November.

As a result, motorists will not have to swerve to avoid hitting birds, and the birds will be protected. Based on safety concerns, some areas may require re-planting or installation of guardrail. Where replacement bushes are planted, native species will be used, rather than non-natives, such as elaeagnus.

ARTBA roadway safety program wins national award

ARTBA has been selected to the honor roll in the 2002 Associations Advance America Awards sponsored by the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE), Washington, D.C.

“ARTBA’s program truly embodies the spirit of the Associations Advance America campaign,” ASAE President Michael S. Olson said. “It is an honor and an inspiration to showcase this activity as an example of the many contributions associations are making to advance American society.”

ARTBA was recognized for its overall Roadway Construction Zone Safety Program. The program includes the publication of a manual on safety management for highway contractors, a training course focusing on safety in roadway construction, national and international conferences on roadway work-zone safety and an information clearinghouse on roadway work-zone safety.

ARTBA currently is developing a driver education module on navigating construction zones for the U.S. DOT. It is targeted at teen drivers.

The Associations Advance America Awards recognize associations and in-dustry partners that advance American society with programs in education, skills training, standard setting, business and social innovation, knowledge creation, citizenship and community service.

—edited by Allen Zeyher

About The Author: Bill Wilson is editor of Roads & Bridges.

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