Require a Transportation Study of Multi-Modal Ground Corridors

A transportation study of multi-modal ground trade corridors should be required to bring planning for increasing population density, traffic congestion and trade with Mexico.


Background
About 10.8 million people 64 percent of Texas population live within a geographic triangle formed by Dallas-Fort Worth, San Antonio and Houston. By the year 2020, t his area is projected to have 14.3 million people, representing 72 percent of Texas population growth. 1 Annual travel demand within the triangle area is projected to increase at a rate faster than that of the population growth. 2 This growth in travel demand will not necessarily be concentrated on personal mobility, but will focus heavily on increased freight transportation, especially as trading with Mexico becomes more important. It will become increasingly important for Texas t o link the transportation needs of these trade corridors as soon as possible in order to build an infrastructure foundation for economic growth into the next century.

Texas solution to such capacity shortages has led past efforts in developing a more extensive inter- and intrastate highway system. 3 However, it is not possible in many areas to construct enough additional traditional highways to meet these growing demands due to limits of space and air quality. Texas, because of its unique characteristics, must approach solutions to this impending transportation problem with innovative planning that will allow Texans future needs to be met at a reasonable cost. Although capacity of existing highway systems can be expected to be improved by new vehicle and highway guidance and communi cations systems, including new federal initiatives to provide computer technologies for traffic management systems and a limited number of additional highway lane miles, the traditional project- focused approach limits innovative transportation planning. Gi ven projections for new demand and limitations on our traditional approach to build additional capacity for one mode, Texas cannot afford to continue to do business as usual. Innovative solutions must be found to meet our mobility needs for the next centur y.

Recent transportation research has focused on high-tech systems, complementing the planning efforts being put into high speed passenger rail. However, that focus was determined to be too narrow in that it looked at highways as the only mode. 4 Past planning efforts that focused on one mode of transportation are deemed inappropriate in planning for the next building phase for transportation infrastructure. As transportation needs and modes change and as their economic relationship changes, flexibility to accommodate different modes and needs is essential to achieve the most cost-effective transportation system for Texas and to provide a strong infrastructure for long-term economic development.

With increasing population density, the critical element in transportation planning becomes the acquisition of right-of-way. With a growing number of landowners and abutting businesses to consider, the setting aside of right-of-way to meet long-term transportation needs is essential. Planning should be done by a pr ocess that looks at general mobility objectives for Texas, not by which project should be done. By emphasizing any particular mode, the state limits its flexibility to provide mobility for private individuals, together with the important need of maintaining efficient freight transportation for the Texas economy. 5

The process necessary to provide such flexibility is called intermodal transportation planning and is emphasized in the federal Intermodal Surface Transportation Act of 1991 (ISTEA). With the national interstate highway system basically complete, ISTEA g ives cities and states much more control over projects and funding priorities, as well as allowing much more money for research, intelligent vehicle highway systems, toll roads and more types of mass transit. ISTEA is also mandating and funding large-scale efforts by state and local transportation agencies to link systems to new traffic management technologies, air pollution control and regional economic development planning. This planning proces s allows for all kinds of modal configurations to be considered in a right-of-way, so that broad objectives of passenger and freight mobility are reached within the state of Texas. 6 Single-mode transportation planning does not allow an examination of how our mobility needs would best be met.

An example of one-mode transportation planning that has resulted in limited success is the planning for a high speed rail system. In coordination with a high speed rail research project, the University of Texas compl eted in 1989 a study involving high speed highways that could be accommodated within the same corridor as high speed rail. 7 Many variations of such modal planning can be done, including planning for the segregation of trucks and passenger cars under consideration for highway designs in the next century or truck-only highway facilities adjacent to high speed rail. Such plannin g could involve high speed highways and rail operating in the same corridor. Or, it could involve lower-speed systems carrying trucks and freight, or higher-speed intermodal service involving ships, rail or trucks that could be extremely attractive to shippers. However, each of these modal studies would be limited by their narrow focus on one mode of transportation.

The volume of truck traffic on our interstates is increasing everywhere. Some interstate sections in the United States now have more than 40 percent trucks in their average daily traffic figures. 8 In Texas, there has been a dramatic increase in the numbers of trucks on Interstate Highway 35 from Dallas-Ft.Worth through San Antonio to Mexico. This increase comes from the natural growth of Texas industries and from growing trade with Mexico.

Traditionally, the Texas highway revenue base has been funded through motor fuels taxes with a variety of users sharing the facility and paying the costs. This imperfect cost allocation system has resulted in cross-subsidization from autos to trucks, which is not only undesirable from a citizen s standpoint, but is also damaging in terms of intermodal effectiveness and planning. 9 Truck-only lanes, roads and other facilities could provide both the state and the trucking industry a wider range of options. The trucking industry could operate larger and heavier trucks, passenger traffic safety would improve, and tolls could be charge d on a consumption basis or for the amount of highway damaged by its use.

On the Florida turnpike, small trucking parking yards are provided near most of the toll entrances so that larger combination trucks can be assembled from smaller legal trucks for operation on the turnpike. This and other benchmark-setting precedents can be incorporated into studies for what could be termed the Texas Trade Link ground corridor.

A series of ground corridors linking major metropolitan areas is a vision for Texas transportation in the next century. According to a study by the University of Texas Center for Transportation Research:

...there is a natural link with other corridors and toll roads currently being developed in Mexico. In other words, we have the basis for an international system of corridors which will permit safe and effective provision of people, regular freight and hazardous materials. The oft-quoted triangle of Dallas-Ft. Worth, Houston and San Antonio is mi rrored by the triangle of Laredo, Mexico City and Guadalajara. Thus, we have two systems that could be linked and at the border there could be a special type of crossing developed to facilitate rapid transit between the two nations. 10

The Texas Trade Line Corridor (TTLC) and its link to Mexico would create a major arterial North American Free Trade corridor system for Texas, allowing it to fully benefit from this alliance.

Intermodal transportation planning for the TTLC would also allow for other users needs for right-of-way use. These could include natural gas pipelines, oil pipelines, fiber optic cable or other technology for telecommunications uses, electricity transmission and other common utility services. Currently, each of these plan separate ly for such right-of-ways, sometimes coordinating their planning, purchases or sharing cross-over space through agreements. Generally, each user negotiates separately when it must cross private lands. No efforts are being made at the state level to coordin ate the sharing of right-of-ways. As Texas becomes more crowded, this long-range intermodal planning will become increasingly necessary to support the Texas economy. The defining of TTLC now would greatly facilitate such sharing by both transportation and utilities.

Additionally, the planning and acquisition of such a corridor would greatly enhance Texas efforts to deal with environmental issues and economic growth. In the corridor s earliest planning, environmental concerns could be addressed to ensure construction with minimum disruption and maximum protection. These concerns could cover most environmental and social issues well in advance of construction including, but not limited to, natural habitats, wetlands and farm lands and other abutting landowners and businesses interests. The TTLC could begin with an early cooperative approach, instead of the late involvement that has contributed to adversarial relationships in many transportation projects.

With the passage of the federal ISTEA legislation, Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) faces a challenge to its existing single-mode and project-focused way of doing business. According to transportation experts, Texas cannot build itself out of the increasing demand for ground transportation; Texas cannot afford to emulate California with its overburdened, 12-lane highway systems. Texas will have to take the lead in providing complementary capacity to existing highway, rail, water and air transportation modes. The concept of a TTLC maximizes our res ources and complements the existing interstate system and mobility preferences of Texans.


Recommendation
The Legislature should direct and authorize Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) to expend $500,000 from Highway Fund 006 and federal funds to perform a two-year planning study of the Texas Trade Link Corridor. TxDOT should file a progress report with the Legislature by November 30, 1994, which would include a recommendation for funding the corridor project by the 74th Legislature.

The final study shall be completed by September 1, 1995. The use of both non-constitutionally dedicated and highway funds is intended to provide intermodal planning flexibility to include all transportation modes and utilities. TxDOT should use a coordinat ed approach with TxDOT s staff, Texas A&M s Texas Transportation Institute and the University of Texas Center for Transportation Research.

These groups should also work together to secure additional federal discretionary grant funding for other related studies and demonstration projects.


Implications
National transportation priorities have shifted dramatically toward an intermodal approach. Texas continues to rely heavily on rubber tires for passenger and freight transportation. In this context, an environme ntally sound, safe intermodal ground corridor complements the existing interstate system, while allowing for new technologies and higher capacities. This will showcase the integration of other transportation modes into what has always been a highway planni ng process. The TTLC will become a demonstration project for a multi-modal statewide planning process, enabling the appropriate modes to be planned into ground corridors and laying essential groundwork for the expansion of trade with Mexico.


Fiscal Impact
The building of the TTLC would provide a two and a half multiplier boost to the Texas economy; each dollar invested would return an estimated $2.50 in economic activity. 11 Increased employment and the sale of Texas materials and products will be direct gains to the economy. Long-term benefits will develop from this increased mobility capacity as trade is facilitated and increased. This effect on the overall Texas economy wi ll bring in additional state revenues through increased sales and other taxes.

The cost of the study for the TTLC would be approximately $500,000 and would take approximately two years.


Fiscal Cost to the Change in
Year Highway Fund 006 FTEs

1994 $(250,000) 0
1995 (250,000) 0
1996 0 0
1997 0 0
1998 0 0



Endnotes
1 Comptroller of Public Accounts, Texas Triangle Population: 1990 to 2026 (Austin, Texas, December 18, 1992). (Computer printout).
2 Rob Harrison, Evaluating a High-Speed Ground Corridor, Study for the High-Speed Rail Authority, The University of Texas at Austin, Center for Transportation Research (Austin, Texas, 1989) p.1.
3 Interview with Leigh Boske, The University of Texas at Austin, Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, Austin, Texas, December 1, 1992.
4 Rob Harrison and B. Frank McCullough, Multi-Modal Ground Corridors - A Complement to the Interstate System, The University of Texas at Austin, Center for Transportation Research, December 4, 1992, p. 2 (Draft CTR Position Paper).
5 Interview with B. Frank McCullough, Director, Center for Transportation Research, The University of Texas at Austin, September 28, 1992.
6 Harrison and McCullough, Multi-Modal Ground Corridor - A Complement to the Interstate System, p. 3.
7 Harrison, Evaluating a High-Speed Ground Corridor, pp. 1-3.
8 Harrison and McCullough, Multi-Modal Ground Corridor - A Complement to the Interstate System, p. 5.
9 Ibid., p. 5.
10 Ibid., p. 6.
11 Aschauer, David A., Is Public Expenditure Productive? Journal of Monetary Economics (Amsterdam, 1989), no. 23.