State and local transportation issues, part 1I spent all day Wednesday at a a statewide conference on "Transportation Infrastructure: Establishing Public Policy Priorities" put on by Texas Lyceum at Reliant Center, with the objective of getting something substantive done at the upcoming legislative session in January. The turnout was impressive - several hundred I'd say. It was a mixed format of round-table "fishbowl" expert discussions and breakout sessions for participation, which I found to be a much more engaging format than the usual sequence of lone speakers with Powerpoint slides.
Rosanna Ruiz's Chronicle article on the event is here, including some quotes by yours truly (we randomly ended up a the same table).
Some observations from the day:
- There was widespread agreement Texas has been chronically under-investing in transportation infrastructure, and the future trends look even worse if something isn't done, mainly around funding.
- Recent hearings around the state indicated that people prefer taxes over tolls, which surprised me.
- Our port has a mismatch problem: the water side is 24/7, but the land/truck side is generally only 16 hours/day because they can't operate when their destinations aren't open to receive the load. My (partial) solution? Determine containers that have long multi-hour drives to their destinations (around the state and beyond), and release those loads to trucks in the middle of the night. By the time they get where they're going, their destination store, factory, warehouse or whatever will be open.
- "Inland ports" were a hot concept to move the congestion away from urban areas and the jobs to underdeveloped parts of the state. One idea from our table: a rail shuttle to move containers from the port into east Texas along the I-69 corridor. Facilities along there would transfer the loads to trucks, which would not go through any congested urban areas in Texas as they head to destinations in the eastern U.S. (as opposed to the cities trucks travel through when they come from south Texas or the port).
- Are we going to be the first generation of Texans to not leave a legacy of generous infrastructure investments to our children?
- "We talk like we want to be California, but we spend like Mississippi."
- Far too many people are on the roads during rush hours that don't need to be (almost half aren't going to or from work). How to we shift that demand to off-peak? Telecom solutions? Road pricing solutions?
- Mary Peters, the U.S. Dept of Transportation Secretary, made some great points about getting rid of the artificial barriers between pots of federal money (like roads vs. transit - let locals decide the best use), that we need move from arbitrary earmarks to strict cost-benefit performance metrics, and that the gas tax has a limited future as we move to higher mileage vehicles as well as those running on alternative fuels (like the coming wave of plug-in hybrids running on electricity for many miles/day). She mentioned a vehicle-miles-traveled (VMT) tax, but it sounds like a privacy (GPS tracking) or fraud (odometer rollbacks) nightmare to me, as well as discouraging investment in higher mileage cars (which the gas tax does).
- She also mentioned that the congestion-priced lanes on CA-91 in Orange County have 40% better throughput (!!) than the free general-purpose lanes because they keep speeds up. I imagine we'll see similar metrics eventually for our new I-10 Katy Freeway managed lanes. I believe more of these lanes is the best and cheapest thing we can do to get more out of current freeway infrastructure as well as raise critically-needed funds for new infrastructure. With that kind of performance improvement, we should even be seriously considering switching over currently free general-purpose lanes to managed - after extensive public education of the benefits, of course.