Its one big roadeo in Texas

Lone Star State hopes new I-69 will take the heat off other routes

Article March 21, 2002
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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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