Summit lays out path to future transportation improvements | News
ALVIN — Community, county and Houston leaders shared subsequent steps for county initiatives and partnerships and highlighted the future of Brazoria County on the eleventh Annual Transportation and Infrastructure Summit.
Port Freeport CEO Phyllis Saathoff introduced the progress of her Freeport Harbor Channel Improvement Project and knowledgeable the viewers that the challenge is already below building and has accomplished its third contract.
“We also completed a second job for the harbor bend to widen it,” she stated. “This work is complete. That was the narrowest point and we dredged it out. We have a larger margin of safety for better navigation in this area. We’re working with the Corps right now to get the final offering package out. It should be available on December 19th. We open the offer in January and award in March. Depending on the available funds will determine how much we give.”
It will take 700 days to complete the canal project once it is tendered and contracts signed, Saathoff said.
“We will likely be prepared on time and make it by 2025, which was my aim to give this group a more moderen, extra fashionable channel again for generations to come,” she said.
About 38.7 million tons of cargo are shipped through Port Freeport annually, Saathoff said, making the port No. 11 in US tonnage for foreign waterborne shipments and sixth in chemicals
“In 2021 we had 1,283 ship calls and I feel we’re going to be slightly shy this 12 months with Freeport LNG’s failure in current months,” she said. “Otherwise we would have surpassed that. We’re still seeing growth of about 10 percent a year, and this will be the first year that’s a bit short. Texas moves 25 percent of the nation’s total tonnage. We are important to this nation and this community.”
The most recent announcement that Port Freeport was excited about was that Volkswagen Group of America was making it their Gulf Coast home, Saathoff said.
“They will have an area to store cars and process vehicles that will be 120 acres. It can go as high as 125 when all is said and done,” she said. “I have to thank this community, we want to have all the tools in our toolbox to attract business to our county and one of those tools is the tax break. That was important to Volkswagen. I am grateful to the City of Freeport, County and College for joining and supporting this cause.”
An update on Jacobs Solution’s 36A project was presented by project manager David Gorner.
“Highway 36 is a vital route for the north and northwest of the county,” he said. “In early 2000, the Houston Galveston Area Council, our metropolis council, was conducting site visitors research they usually observed issues with site visitors congestion and tried to discover various routes to direct site visitors by means of metropolitan Houston.”
The 36A plan develops an alternative orientation and anticipated mobility/congestion issues based on projected growth within the original study area, Gornet said.
There are two areas of the project, namely the south portion from Hwy 36 to 1-10/US 290 and the north portion which includes the 1-10/US 90 to US 290/Hwy 6 corridor
“We have to concentrate on all of the restrictions we’re coping with on this hall,” Gornet stated. “If you’re going north from the Rosenburg area, you’re certainly following the Brazos River and you’ve got a lot of flood plains there. We don’t want to do any projects that aggravate existing conditions.”
Part of the first study included the lack of adequate facilities for north and south freight traffic and the flood plains and restrictions of the Brazos River, he said.
“We want to be flexible and adaptable in the development of this road,” said Gornet. “Things are changing, we have a chance to go that route and adapt things for driverless vehicles when the time comes.”
As an extension of the road projects, Brazoria County Engineer Matt Hanks provided an update on the completion of the 288 Expressway and resulting transactions.
In 2019, the county conducted a traffic and revenue study to update their numbers for funding, and the project showed they would have $250,000 in transactions, Hanks said.
“When COVID struck we reached out to the transport and tax company and asked what that would mean for our revenue. We’ve been told to expect half of those transactions since COVID,” he said. “After we opened in November 2020, things went much better.”
Since opening, the district has averaged $844,000 transactions per month. Over the past 12 months, they’ve made an average of $882,000 per month. Over the past six months, it’s been over $900,000, Hanks said.
“We’re seeing an increase, and there are important factors that have led to that,” Hanks said. “Our partners in the north adjusted their tariffs. In 2022 you will see that our transactions have stabilized, not flattened out but steadily increased. So we did very well. Our slowest month was August 2021, we had $690,000, and our busiest month was June 2021 with over a million transactions.”
Texas A&M University System RELLIS Campus Director Kelly Templin was the keynote speaker at Thursday’s summit, speaking about the road testing being conducted on campus.
“In the last five years we have built and renovated over 1,000 square meters. We have seven engineering labs. My challenge is to get up with the 80-year-old patch that we have,” Templin said. “The main purpose of RELLIS is to support the research portfolio. That’s more than $1.2 billion. It’s the largest research portfolio of any university in the state of Texas, and it’s still growing.”
RELLIS, which stands for Respect, Excellence, Loyalty, Leadership and Selfless Service, conducts analysis on bridge efficiency, asphalt innovation laboratory, driving simulation, sediment and erosion management, environmental and emissions analysis, and structural and materials testing.
“A lot of road safety work has been done there, and many police officers are being trained there,” he stated. “We have the largest 5G test field in the world, it’s a safe test field. We have human resource development; We have long since made personnel development and a new building for it. We do a lot of this training on campus.”
Additional industry training on campus includes data center, veterinary medicine, and design and manufacturing.
The main focus areas of RELLIS are asphalt and flexible pavement, concrete infrastructure and cement, infrastructure sensors and connectivity, advanced manufacturing, structures and corrosion.
“We have virtually 2,400 acres now,” Templin said. “It’s an ecosystem the place we host loads of utilized analysis and we do loads of testing and coaching, and it now has an instructional aspect.”
Margaret Kidd, Instructional Assistant Professor of Supply Chain Logistics at the University of Houston, provided an updated look at what the supply chain looks like from an infrastructure perspective.
“The funding within the future is the availability chain,” Kidd said. “Warehouses are packed and supplies are packed. We need to look at public policy on how to support long-term investment for capital projects.”
Although progress has been made, Kidd said there are still challenges in the supply chain for a number of reasons.
“Who would have thought that coping with vitality insecurity, Europe would find yourself within the state of affairs it’s in,” she said. “We have seen a number of factories that have slowed down. One of my solutions is that we need to partner with other counties and other ports and universities need to partner with other universities.”
This is evident in energy trilemmas such as affordability, sustainability and security, as well as extreme events such as the Russian war in Ukraine, COVID lockdowns in China and the energy situation in Europe, she said.
When it comes to supply chain issues, this is showing a domino effect, such as inflation, port closures, shortages and consumer demand, Kidd said.
Other speakers include the US Army Corp of Engineers District Galveston Projects Director Michael Braden, who addressed the Sabine Pass to Galveston project.
The Freeport Vicinity Coastal Storm Risk Management Project, also known as FPV, is one of three parts of a coastal barrier stretching from Sabine Pass on the Louisiana state line to Freeport. The Port Arthur and Orange County segments are the others.
The FPV comprises contracts 02, 03 and 04 covering different areas of the project.
These contracts will improve about 13 miles of levee and about 5 miles of flood wall along with raising the levee by about 1 to 4 feet throughout the system.
Additionally, the project will replace all storm wall reinforcements from I-Rods underneath to a T for more support.
Eliza Paul, District Engineer for the Texas Department of Transportation, spoke about the department’s new Unified Transportation Program, which is expected to bring about $12.4 billion worth of road work to the area.
The UTP 2023 has a total of $85.1 billion spread across the 12 funding categories to develop road projects over the next 10 years, she said.
“Projects within the UTP are chosen by TxDoT districts, metropolitan planning organizations, or the Texas Transportation Commission utilizing merit-based choice processes,” she said.
The Highway 36 project begins on the Fort Bend County line to northern CR 467 and will widen and add lanes at a cost of approximately $76 million. Another portion will go from FM 522 to Highway 332 at an estimated cost of US$47 million.
Other projects in Brazoria County include improvements to FM 517 from the Galveston County line to Highway 35 for an estimated $13 million and FM 518 from Highway 288 to FM 865 for $39 million, and widening FM 518 – Broadway Street in Pearland – from Highway 288 to Highway 35, according to the Texas Department of Transportation.
Brazoria County wants to receive approximately $291.7 million from the program, which will address Highways 35, 288 and 6 and CR 48, 57, 67, 60 and 56. Much of the work will take place in the northern part of the county. In many places, population growth has exceeded current traffic capacity.
More than half of this whole will likely be used to construct the District part of the Grand Parkway, Highway 99. It will likely be a toll highway roughly following Highway 35. The first part of the district, estimated at roughly $169 million, will go to FM 1465 from the Galveston County line. The implementation of this challenge will take at the least 5 years.