Governor Greg Abbott Signs Texas House Bill 1079
On Monday, Governor Greg Abbott signed Texas House Bill 1079 which directs TxDOT to conduct a comprehensive study of the Ports-to-Plains Corridor. The study must evaluate the feasibility of, and the costs and logistical matters associated with, improvements that create a four-lane divided highway which meets interstate highway standards to the extent possible.
This study would detail improvements to extend Interstate 27 both north and south which includes the Ports-to-Plains Corridor north of Amarillo to the Texas-Oklahoma border, to the Texas-New Mexico border, and south of Lubbock to Laredo.
Next, TxDOT will establish an Interstate 27 Advisory Committee which is comprised of the county judge, an elected county official, or the administrator of the county’s road department, as designated by the county judge, of each county along the Ports-to-Plains Corridor along with the mayor, city manager, or assistant city manager, as designated by the mayor, of Amarillo, Big Spring, Carrizo Springs, Dalhart, Del Rio, Dumas, Eagle Pass, Eldorado, Lamesa, Laredo, Lubbock, Midland, Odessa, San Angelo, Sonora, Sterling City, Stratford, and Tahoka. The advisory committee would meet at least twice each year on a rotational basis in Lubbock and San Angelo.
Additionally, TxDOT, in conjunction with the Advisory Committee, will establish committees for each geographic segment along the Ports-to-Plains Corridor as determined by TxDOT. The Segment Committees would consist of volunteers who represent municipalities, counties, metropolitan planning organizations, ports, chambers of commerce, and economic development organizations including the oil and gas industry, the trucking industry, TxDOT representatives, and any other interested parties.
Each Segment Committee will submit a report by June 30, 2020 to the Advisory Committee providing input for the study conducted by the TxDOT including priority recommendations for improvement and expansion of the Ports-to-Plains Corridor.
TxDOT will also host quarterly public meetings on a rotational basis in Amarillo, Laredo, Lubbock, and San Angelo to gather public feedback on improvements or expansions to the Ports-to-Plains Corridor.
Not later than January 1, 2021, TxDOT will submit a report on the results of the study to the governor, lieutenant governor, speaker of the house of representatives, and presiding officer of each standing committee of the legislature with jurisdiction over transportation matters.
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Legislative Support for HB 1079
The leadership and cooperation of the legislators across West Texas who played a part in authoring, sponsoring and amending this legislative is greatly appreciated by the Alliance. A special thanks to Senator Perry and Representative Price as they shepherded this bill through the legislative process.
The final legislation described above has roots in two bills: HB 1079 authored by Representative Four Price (District 88) with joint authors Representatives Ken King (District 88), John Smithee (District 86) and Drew Springer (District 68), and SB 176 authored by Senator Charles Perry (District 28). HB 1079 was amended by Representative Dustin Burrows (District 82) in the House Transportation Committee combining the extent of the study from each bill. The amended HB 1079 passed the House Transportation Committee on a vote of 9 to 0 and by the House 143 to 1.
In the Senate Transportation Committee, a substitute HB 1079 which included the details of the study described in the previous article was introduced by Senator Perry. Senator Kel Seliger (District 31) was also a co-sponsor. The substitute HB 1079 was approved by the Senate Transportation Committee 7 to 0 and was recommended for the Local Calendar where it was approved by the Senate. With the substitute HB 1079 approved by the Senate, it returned to the House which concurred with the substitute. Then, the bill was signed by Governor Greg Abbott.
Legislative support was provided by the following who testified at House and Senate Transportation Committee Hearing in Austin: City Manager Jared Miller, City of Amarillo; Ports-to-Plains Board Member Milton Pax, Dumas; Deputy City Manager Michelle Bonner, City of Amarillo; Mayor Brenda Gunter, City of San Angelo; Councilman Steve Massengale, City of Lubbock; Mayor Larry McLellan, City of Big Spring; Chairman of Ports-to-Plains Alliance and President/CEO of Lubbock Economic Development Alliance John Osborne, Lubbock; and County Judge Steve Smith, Sutton County and Ports-to-Plains Alliance Board of Directors. While not testifying, the following provided legislative support during the hearings: President John Esparza, Texas Trucking Association; County Commissioner Bill McCay, Lubbock County; President/CEO Carlton Schwab, Texas Economic Development Council; Leticia Van de Putte, Andrade-Van De Putte & Associates (Del Rio); and Mark Vane, Husch Blackwell Strategies (Caterpillar).
Finally, the Alliance is appreciative of the lobby firm which assisted in moving this bill through the legislature. The Hance Scarborough LLP team, the primary lobbyist for the bill, included Kent Hance, Cheri Huddleston, Robert Floyd, Wes McGuffey, Petrus Wassdorf and Sawyer Burmeister. Ports-to-Plains Board Member Brint Ryan also provided Andrea McWilliams of his company’s lobby team in support of the bill.
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Heartland Expressway: Colorado Highway 71 Truck Freight Diversion Study
Daniel L. Mattson, P.E., Resident Engineer, Central Greeley Residency. updated the Heartland Expressway Association (HEA) Board of Directors on May 16, 2019 on the Colorado Highway 71 Truck Freight Diversion Study. This study, was initiated in April 2017, to analyze freight movement and the impact of SH 71 improvements on truck traffic; identify the types and cost of improvements to SH 71 that will draw additional truck traffic; determine the potential economic benefit to the trucking industry and local economies; and develop funding options and implementation scenarios.
The overall vision of the study was to answer the question: How does SH 71 fit into the Overall System? Colorado Vision? Ultimate Section? This vision would consider six scenarios ranging from four-lane divided section to minor improvements to the existing two-lane road.
CDOT and the consultants completed an Intercept Survey with truck drivers at sixteen sites between Dumas, TX on the south and Douglas, WY and Scottsbluff, NE on the north. Conclusions provided were:
- Improvements could lure north/south truck traffic to either SH 71 or US 385
- Improved travel time and roadway conditions were most influential reasons to draw truck traffic
- Rideability /Pavement condition was identified as the most important roadway condition that draws truckers to a corridor
- Passing lanes, shoulders, trucker amenities were evenly ranked as the next most important draw for truckers
It was noted by the HEA Board members that the Intercept Study failed to ask questions about scenarios beyond passing lanes and shoulders.
The second major effort of the study was Travel Demand Modeling. The modeling was limited to criteria like increased speeds on CO 71 and reduced congestion on Interstate 25 to arrive at the following preliminary results:
- CO 71 divided into 3 segments for modeling and prioritization
- Segment 1: Colorado State Line to SH 14
- Segment 2: SH 14 to Brush
- Segment 3: Brush to Limon
- Segment 3 has been identified as the priority segment for improvements
- Consistently attracts the highest number of diverted MUT traffic
- CO 71 can potentially lure 8% 10% of the freight traffic from I-25
- Finalizing the process for modeling the Ultimate Vision Section
The HEA Board urged CDOT to find additional data that can be inputted to the model which provides the impact of alternative sections like a four-lane divided expansion.
The HEA Board of Directors appreciates CDOT providing this update and look forward to final results that include the impact of expansion scenarios.
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Long X Bridge Contract Awarded - Replacement to be Open by July 2021
From Western Dakota Energy Association
This historic Long X Bridge on US Highway 85 south of Watford City will soon be replaced with a new bridge. Work on the new Little Missouri River crossing is scheduled for completion in July 2021.
The ND Department of Transportation last week awarded a bid to Ames Construction to build the new bridge and dismantle the old one. Ames, based in Burnsville, MN, was the only bidder on the project. Its $33,971,510 bid was more than $6 million over the engineer’s estimate.
The company will begin mobilizing on the site in July and work is expected to begin in August, according to Bill Gathman, assistant district engineer for DOT’s Williston District. Gathman said the next step in getting the project started will be a pre-construction conference.
Click here to listen to Gathman’s comments.
Replacing the old truss bridge with a newer design will allow it to better accommodate oversize truck traffic. It’s vertical clearance is just over 16 feet, so it’s no surprise as Gathman says that “it’s been hit a few times in the last few years.”
The new bridge, to be built east of the current structure, will be four lanes wide in anticipation of future construction that will widen other segments of Highway 85 between Watford City and Belfield. Click here to see DOT’s eight-page handout from public hearings held last spring on the multi-part project.
Because the Long X Bridge is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, federal law requires it be made available for adoption prior to its removal. Emmons County rancher Paul Silbernagel will do that with the southern span of the bridge, which is about 250 feet in length. Silbernagel plans to reassemble it on his ranch east of Linton where it will span Beaver Creek. The bridge will be on private property, but it should be visible from Highway 13.
Click here to read a Bismarck Tribune article on Silbernagel’s plans for the bridge. Click here to see photos and a detailed description of the Long X Bridge from BridgeHunter.com.
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By Jack Schenendorf
Covington & Burling LLP
Federal Consultant To Ports-to-Plains Alliance
Investment in infrastructure has broad bipartisan support. Republicans support it. Democrats support it. As the saying goes: “There are no Republican bridges or Democratic roads, there are only American bridges and American roads.”
That is why there is optimism in the 116th Congress that a Republican Senate, a Democratic House, and a Republican President who supports infrastructure investment might finally be able to break the logjam that has plagued federal infrastructure initiatives for years.
It looked like this optimism was well-founded when the President met with congressional Democratic leaders a few weeks ago and agreed to a $2 trillion investment in infrastructure, including highways, bridges, transit, ports, airports, water and sewer systems, and internet broadband. They agreed to meet again to explore options to pay for the investment.
This follow-up meeting did not go well. Before it even started President Trump declared that he could not work with the congressional Democrats until they stopped investigating him. He also stated that he would not negotiate on an infrastructure bill until the USMCA trade deal with Canada and Mexico had been ratified by Congress.
It has not come as a surprise to many in the infrastructure community that the negotiations broke down right at the point when it was time to discuss how to pay for the investment. Congress has not been able to solve decades-old disputes over how to fund infrastructure improvements. The federal tax on gas and diesel fuel, the main source of revenue for highway spending, has not changed since 1993.
While the fate of a comprehensive infrastructure bill in this Congress is in question, congressional leaders are nevertheless moving forward on infrastructure. In the House, Cong. DeFazio, chair of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, has indicated that he will pursue a surface transportation reauthorization bill and other individual pieces of infrastructure legislation. He has indicated that he wants to work with Republicans to move individual pieces of infrastructure legislation, including a surface transportation reauthorization bill.
In the Senate, Sen. Barrasso, chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee, has indicated that he does not think the breakdown will affect the Senate’s work on highway legislation. He plans to continue to work with Democrats on a major highway infrastructure bill.
Given that Congress is continuing to work on highway legislation and other individual infrastructure bills, as well as the possibility that the comprehensive infrastructure bill may be resurrected at some point, it is important for Ports-to-Plains to continue to advocate on behalf of its priorities. It is critical that Congress recognize the importance of rural multi-state highway corridors to Rural America and the nation as a whole. These are the highways that deliver the food, fuel, and fiber that secure the quality of life of America’s great cities and suburban areas. It is critical that infrastructure/transportation legislation be fair, balanced and not biased against Rural America, especially rural multi-state highway corridors. And it is critical that Congress understands that what works in Urban America (such as tolling and public-private partnerships) does not always work in Rural America.
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