Improving Freight Transportation Infrastructure and Direct Flights to China
January 17, 2013
by: Gail Delaughter
TxDOT is out with a study on what needs to be done to improve the state's transportation infrastructure as business takes off at Texas ports.
With its 52-miles of petrochemical complexes, figures show the Port of Houston is responsible for about a million direct and indirect jobs in the region. With the widening of the Panama Canal, along with increased energy exploration, officials expect even more activity in the future. And that means more traffic on local roadways.
Harris County Judge Ed Emmett worked on that study. He says if the state doesn't prioritize freight movement, "then the jobs aren't going to be here and we begin to stagnate."
One of the issues also facing transportation planners is the state's growing population, which is increasing by about 1000 people a day. So how do you efficiently move freight without bogging down the state's roadways?
At the Port of Houston trucks handle most of that freight, but Port Executive Director Leonard Waterworth says a lot of those containers could be transported by rail. Waterworth says in the Barbours Cut area, there's probably well over fifty percent additional capacity that could be utilized, and he's expecting rail activity to pick up later this year.
Officials say if you could get the freight out of congested urban areas before loading it onto trucks, freeways would move more smoothly . But what about drivers who are stuck waiting for trains to pass? TxDOT Commissioner Jeff Moseley says elevated railroad crossings would cut down on idling vehicles, in turn improving air quality.
Houston City Council has chosen a union official for a vacant spot on the Houston Port Commission. Dean Corgey has served as vice president of the Seafarers International Union Gulf Coast Region since 1990, and he's also active with the Texas and Harris County AFL-CIO.
Corgey will fill the seat left vacant by Janiece Longoria, who was named Port Commission Chairman earlier this month.
In news from Houston freeways, TxDOT kept busy in 2012 repairing bridges that were damaged by oversized trucks. There were seven incidents in which trucks bumped into bridges because their loads were too high.
TxDOT's Danny Perez says in some cases all that's needed is a patch. In other instances they have to do major steel work, such as replacing beams. And when big repairs are needed, that means TxDOT has to shut down the freeway and detour drivers.
But why do these accidents happen in the first place? Drivers are supposed to know the height of their load. Perez says, "That's part of the permit process. They provide the height and that's the permit that they're given. And through the permit process they're given the routes to take."
But Perez says there are some bridges where they've had issues in the past, and they're looking at better signage to help keep these accidents from happening.
As for who pays for damages when a truck hits a bridge, Perez says TxDOT works to recoup that money from the trucking firm's insurance company.
Pondering a vacation to China this summer? You'll be able to hop on a direct flight at Bush Intercontinental, now that Air China is planning direct flights from Houston to Beijing.
If the U.S. Department of Transportation gives its okay, Houston will become Air China's fifth gateway in North America. The airline currently offers flights out of New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Vancouver.
Air China's vice-president Zhihang Chi says they chose Houston as its newest gateway because of strong international business ties along with a growing Asian population. Houston Mayor Annise Parker says the Bayou City now has over 500 companies that do business with China.
Pending government approval, those flights are set to begin July 11. There will be four flights a week, and officials say that translates into about 1200 seats.
Flights headed to Beijing will depart Houston at 1:40 AM. Return flights will leave from Beijing at 3:00 PM. The airline will fly the new generation Boeing 777-300ER.