Trucks are already prohibited from using the left lane on I-30, I-20 and I-45 in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. State officials want to dramatically expand the number of highways with a left-lane truck ban beginning in the fall.
What do you think of this restriction?
I'm writing a story about this topic, and would like to include your input. To have your say, please post a comment to this blog item, or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
I have returned from a fantastic week covering the International Transport Forum in Leipzig, Germany. Here's a story that ran in the Wednesday's edition of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram about the 54 nations approving a declaration in support of private investment in roads. Among the speakers was a chief executive at MacQuarie Group Ltd., one of the world's top private transportation investment firms - and he said the universe of pension, equity and other funds available for investment in infrastructure for pretty much any nation that wants to take advantage of it is in the neighborhood of $27 TRILLION.
That's so-o-o- much money, one has to wonder if it's enough to literally solve the world's congestion problems ... or at least put a serious dent in them. But do we want that much private investment in roads? Do we want any more investment than we already have?
I found the trip to Germany to be a fantastic learning experience, and over the next several weeks I hope to write some more stories that explore these funding issues.
In the mean time, please consider these initial stories a conversation starter, and send me a note to email@example.com if you'd like to ask any questions or suggest a story idea.
p.s. To pay for the trip to Germany, I was one of 35 journalists from around the globe (3 in the U.S) awarded a grant from the International Transport Forum's media travel programme.
The Dallas Area Rapid Transit board has approved a deal to begin a two-year pilot bus service in Arlington starting in August - but DART also included some unusual language in the deal that could cause delays or even kill the project.
LEIPZIG, Germany - If a pizza were delivered to your home by a drone, would you leave a tip?
The question may be absurd, but people in the U.S. and throughout the world may soon be using unmanned, remote control aircraft for all kinds of basic deliveries.
"We believe we can build a new paradigm of transportation," Andreas Raptopoulus, founder of a company known as Matternet, said Thursday during a presentation at the International Transport Forum in Leipzig Germany.
The use of drones by the military overseas, or police in U.S. cities, is highly controversial. But Raptopoulos thinks the unmanned aerial devices can save lives.
He has formed a company, Matternet, that aims to launch a fleet of drones around the world that can haul small amounts of freight by remote control, using tracking software to cover distances of several miles.
For example, he envisions soon being able to haul lab samples for HIV/AIDS testing in areas of Africa not served by good roads - and he says the remote control technology can haul a load of more than four pounds a distance of six miles for about 24 cents.
Raptopoulus didn't specifically suggest his innovation could be used to ship pepperoni pies across town. But he did acknowledge that the universe of uses for unmanned aircraft was seemingly endless.
His presentation, which was part of a panel discussion on innovative new ways to pay for transportation, drew accolades from the audience of about 200 people for its creativity.
Raptopoulus, who is based in Palo Alto, Calif., acknowledged that his concept faces hurdles in the U.S.
There are concerns about security, such as whether a drone deployed for an honest business opportunity could be hacked or sabotaged. Raptopoulus acknowledges those concerns, and says the key to keeping his system safe would be to protect the takeoff and landing sites, since the machines takeoff vertically like a toy helicopter.
The FAA is currently working on these issues, as its seeks to comply with a federal law calling for the agency to incorporate unmanned aircraft into the nation's airspace management by 2015.
There could be as many as 30,000 drones in the air by 2020, according to one FAA estimate. The result could be a $90 billion industry.
Drones are already used by police agencies across the U.S. Arlington police recently received FAA permission to fly a 58-inch drone for public safety purposes, including search and rescue missions and other eye-in-the-sky work. Arlington's unmanned aircraft is capable of moving 40 mph.
During the discussion, drones were held out as an example of a technology that, while controversial today, could soon win favor with politicians and the public because of their ability to do more good than harm.
Another panelist, Jonas Eliasson, a professor at the Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden, used city bicycle programs as an example. Eliasson said elected leaders might oppose efforts to make more room on the roads for cycling, but that sentiment can change once the bikes are on the road.
"Things seem worse before you've tried them," Eliasson said. "The benefits look smaller. The losses look larger."
Gordon Dickson, 817 390 7796
Photo: Matternet founder Andreas Raptopoulus shows a slide image of one of his drones, which could be deployed to haul small amounts of freight in cities or jungles. (Photo by Gordon Dickson/Star-Telegram).
By Gordon Dickson
LEIPZIG, Germany - Laura Schewel's idea of "Shop 'Till We Drop" has little to do with her own personal desire to go out and buy shoes or groceries.
Instead, the 29-year-old University of California at Berkeley graduate student is poring over mountains of data showing how much of motorists' time is spent driving to retail stores - and how much of the space on highways and streets is used up by trucks getting goods to the shelves.
On Thursday, Schewel was named winner of the 2013 Young Researcher of the Year Award at the International Transport Summit in Leipzig, Germany.
"Going shopping is a different behavior than going to work, and I think it's important to understand them together," she said.
Schewel's paper is titled "Shop 'Till We Drop: A History and Policy Analysis of Retail Goods Movement."
Her work involved reorganizing two sets of data from separate sources, and determining how much traffic on a typical day in the United States is caused by retail activity.
Schewel got the idea a couple of years ago after stumbling across a federal report showing that motorists reported more than 20 percent of their trips were for shopping - and the figure was nearly 30 percent, including dining.
To her, it seemed that more data should be collected on the topic, and that federal decision-makers ought to be taking those trips into account when deciding where to allocate resources.
In addition to traffic caused by the shoppers themselves, shipments of retail freight are completely different than other types of bulk freight shipments, she said. Yet the focus of freight data collection in the U.S. has been the longer distance shipments, especially those in which the goods are switched from one mode to another (i.e. train to truck), rather than the shorter and simpler retail freight shipments.
Schewel, who is pursing a doctorate degree at the Energy and Resources Group at UC-Berkeley, ultimately hopes her research leads to a reduction in greenhouse gases.
While working on her Ph.d, she has started a business called Street Light Data., which aims to use her data to help retailers and shippers figure out the best places to locate their businesses. The idea is to locate retail stores in areas where people don't have to drive so far to get to them, and to help shippers figure out how to move their goods with less impact on air quality and congestion.
Gordon Dickson, 817 390 7796
Photo: Laura Schewel chats Thursday with Robert Letteney, U.S. Transportation Department deputy assistant secretary for aviation and international affairs, during the International Transport Forum.
LEIPZIG, Germany - Ministers from 54 nations on Thursday opened the door to worldwide expanded private development of toll roads, rail lines and other projects.
It's a potential investment that could amount to several trillion dollars over the next decade or so, several officials said.
But the declaration of support for so-called public-private partnerships also raises many questions about whether corporations will yield too much control over public roads - or whether public entities could be exposed to financial risks in these agreements.
Still, supporters said the declaration approved by representatives of 54 countries - including the United States - during the annual International Transport Forum in Leipzig, Germany was a necessary step to ensure that countries could continue to battle congestion problems on streets and in villages across the globe and meet the needs of a growing and ever more mobile population.
"With both public budgets and private sector resources under constraint, government authorities and industry must together seek new ways of ensuring stable, long-term funding for the sector," a portion of the declaration read.
Norway Transport Minister Marit Arnstad, who is serving as 2013 president of the International Transport Forum, said during an open ministers' session that the declaration allows countries to "obtain private sector funding where appropriate."
"Today we should together secure a robust, sustainable funding for transportation infrastructure for our future," she said.
In the Dallas-Fort Worth area, motorists are already experiencing the expansion of road privatization. The North Tarrant Express project, a $2.5 billion job that includes expansion of Loop 820 and Texas 121/183 in Northeast Tarrant County, is being financed and managed by a private group that includes the U.S. office of Spain-based Cintra. That group also has reached an agreement with the Texas Department of Transportation to expand Interstate 35W from downtown Fort Worth to the Alliance area as part of its project - a move that kicks the value of the deal over the $3 billion mark.
But in return, the private company - known as NTE Mobility Partners, will get to keep tolls generated on those Tarrant County roads for 52 years.
A similar consortium of private companies is building LBJ Express on Interstate 635 in Dallas.
For the handful of global companies that already hold something of an expertise in private development of transportation projects, the approval of the declaration on Thursday signaled a potential windfall of trillions of dollars worldwide.
One of the largest such as companies, Australia-based MacQuarie Group Ltd., already manages $30 billion worth of tolls roads, sea ports, airports and other transportation assets. But David Fass, MacQuarie chief executive in Europe, Middle East and Africa, told forum attendees that was "little more than a drop in the bucket" compared to the $27 trillion that could be spent on infrastructure worldwide.
The money often comes from pension plans, equity investors and others who are willing to invest their dollars for a long-term return. It's an investment for people willing to park their dough for decades at a time.
Several transport ministers and other supporters noted that they'll have to use public-private partnerships carefully, to avoid losing the trust of voters and taxpayers. Although the concept of such partnerships - often called PPPs - has been around in Europe for nearly three decades, a handful of projects has spectacularly failed, raising questions about the public whether it's worthwhile to lease away a public asset such as a road to make up for a short-term lack of tax-supported transportation funding.
"Transport problems may be very different in different parts of the world, but lessons can be shared," said Jose Viegas of Portugal, Secretary General of the International Transport Forum.
The declaration also calls on leaders from the 54 nations to find more stable forms of funding for public-backed projects, and to adopt more strategic transportation planning efforts.
For public-private partnerships, leaders must to a better job explaining the potential liabilities to their respective citizens, and also undertake the efforts necessary to place a monetary value on roads and other transportation "assets" over several decades.
Gordon Dickson, 817 390 7796
Photo 1: David Fass, a chief executive at MacQuarie Group Ltd., addresses transportation ministers from 54 countries Thursday during the International Transport Forum in Leipzig, Germany.
Photo 2: Robert Letteney, deputy assistant secretary for aviation and international affairs at the U.S. Transportation Department, represented the United States during an open ministers' panel Thursday at the International Transport Forum in Leipzig, Germany.
(Photos by Gordon Dickson/Star-Telegram).
LEIPZIG, Germany - Faced with tight budgets and political pressure, the United States and many other countries are missing on a chance to invest in transportation, economists said Wednesday.
"I think of freedom as important and, to me, freedom is the capacity to move around," Harvard University economist Amartya Sen told more than 1,000 people attending the first day of an International Transport Forum in Leipzig, Germany.
Sen, who in 1998 won a Nobel Prize in economic sciences, laid out a multi-pronged, 20-minute argument in favor of investing in roads, rail lines and other modes to help people move to and from their jobs, shopping and other tasks.
He briefly touted transportation as a proven path to prosperity for developing countries, and a tonic for bringing already developed yet stagnant economies out of recession.
But, noting that progress has been slow in many budget-weary countries, Sen said leaders from those nations need to take the time necessary to help residents determine "a public reasoning," a mutually-agreed path to better mobility.
John Micklethwait, editor in chief of The Economist, cited political pressures in many countries, where elected leaders are looking to tighten their belts, rather than invest in projects whose benefits won't be realized for years.
"If you look at the west in particular, you can make the case really rather strongly that we've not invested in this particular recession, in this time of need, in those projects as we expected to," Micklethwait said.
Micklethwait was particularly critical of the U.S., saying "Their infrastructure is lousy. Most of it was built 50 or 60 years ago. It's amazing that it's been only five years since that bridge collapsed in Minnesota, claiming 13 lives, and despite that America still has 70,000 bridges found to be structurally deficient."
Much of the discussion on this first day involved countries exploring alternatives to traditional, tax-supported transportation projects.
An emerging popular alternative is a type of funding known as a PPP - an acronym for public-private partnership. That's a bit of a geeky name, but Texans are familiar with the concept of inviting private developers to help pay for projects in return for allowing them to make a profit on them.
In the Dallas-Fort Worth area, private developers are being used to build North Tarrant Express, a $2.5 billion project that involves the overhaul of Loop 820 and Texas 121/183 and addition of toll lanes. Also, Texas officials have approved a plan to add the expansion of I-35W to that project, and to apply for a federal transportation infrastructure (TIFIA) loan to make it work.
But such partnerships can quickly fail, if public officials don't carefully negotiate contracts with developers to ensure that all parties involved understand who is financially responsible for all the risks.
For example, a project in Saudi Arabia known as the Saudi Land Bridge connecting the Persian Gulf to the Red Sea was initiated as a public-private partnership but the process was canceled because the parties couldn't agree on issues such as who would assume financial risk. The project is now being pursued as a publicly-funded project, said Frank Beckers of Symbulos Infrastucture Consultancy in Dubai.
Another project, South Bay in the San Diego area, went bankrupt, and one of the factors was that original traffic projections were too high, said Jonathan Gifford, a professor at George Mason University in Virginia. The project was backed by a TIFIA loan - which normally is the last of debts to be serviced on a project - but because of "springing lien" language in the agreement the federal loan was moved to the top of the repayment list during the bankruptcy process.
Gifford said the South Bay project, which is now owned by the San Diego Association of Governments "is a success."
"It's a success in the sense that those who put their money at risk absorbed the loss," he said. "Of course, those who put their money at risk do not consider it a success."
Despite those setbacks, public agencies are becoming smarter in laning how to negotiate public-private partnership agreements, several panelists said.
Photo 1: A look down from the top floor of the conference center in Leipzig, Germany, which is hosting the International Transport Forum.
Photo 2: Economist Amartya Sen of Harvard University greets attendees after speaking at the International Transport Forum Wednesday in Leipzig, Germany. (Photos by Gordon Dickson).
Good morning, USA!
I am in Berlin at the moment, and later this afternoon I will be traveling to the International Transport Forum in Leipzig, Germany (about 80 miles away). I applied for and was awarded a media travel grant to cover the event, which is part of the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development.
Despite what the headline of this blog post might imply, my German language skills are extremely limited, so it has been an interesting and quite fun journey the past couple of days getting around the host country for this event.
Anyway, for the rest of this week I hope to keep you updated on how the forum goes. The theme of the event is funding transport. It's a topic we grapple with constantly in the United States, where our will to pay taxes apparently doesn't match up to our desire to move about freely. Dozens of other countries are in the same boat, and I expect to hear a lot about it over the next 72 hours. I arrived a couple of days early, so that I would have time to explore Germany via its transit system, and I've been on everything from its high-speed rail lines to its U-Bahn and S-Bahn and tram services in inner-city Berlin. I hope to have a lot to say about those services over the next couple of days, too.
The photo above is of a train arriving at Berlin's Alexanderplatz station, taken from the fifth floor window of my room at a Motel One.
Anyway, if you have experience with transportation in Europe, especially Germany, or have any questions that I might be able to ask at this forum, please sent me a note to firstname.lastname@example.org ...
HURST — North- and southbound lanes of Precinct Line Road at the Texas 121/183 intersection will be closed from 10 p.m. Saturday to 5 a.m. Sunday and from 6 p.m. Sunday to 5 a.m. Monday as construction crews set beams for the new Airport Freeway bridges over Precinct Line Road.
Northbound traffic will detour along Bedford Euless Road to Norwood Drive. Southbound traffic will detour along the westbound Texas 121/183 frontage road to Bedford Euless Road.
“The closure on Sunday begins earlier than our typical operation because we have nearly 40 beams to set for this portion of the new bridge,” said Lara Kohl, spokeswoman for Bluebonnet Contractors, the project’s construction manager.
The work is part of the $2.5 million North Tarrant Express project, which by mid-2015 will expand 13.5 miles of Northeast Loop 820 and Airport Freeway from Interstate 35W to Industrial Boulevard. Main lanes and frontage roads are being rebuilt and toll lanes are being added.