Friday, May 29, 2009
Every now and then, we wind up having to hang up the hardhat, and tackle, well, shrimp boats.
Orange Area Engineer Clark Slacum took this video of a poor shrimper who has been down on his luck for quite some time. Hurricane Ike's storm surge pushed his boat all the way to the FM 1006 bridge in Orange. TxDOT watched the operations to ensure nothing damaged the bridge.
Believe it or not, TxDOT is still overseeing cleanup efforts from Ike. Liberty and Chambers Counties still have quite a bit of debris.
In this case, Lieutenant Dan and Forrest Gump would be proud.
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
I don't even want to say the word. But, believe it or not, hurricane season is less than a week away.
Who knows what's in store for Southeast Texas. Hopefully, it will be one of those quiet years in which we don't even have to evacuate.
Speaking of evacuations, there are a couple of things you need to know. So, if you've never had the "pleasure" of evacuating during one of these approaching storms, there are a couple of things you want to pay close attention to. And if you are one of those folks who find evacuating just about as frequent as your morning commute, read on. You may learn some things you never knew.
Once an evacuation is called, TxDOT goes to work setting up barricades and preparing highways for traffic. In reality, this begins when a storm enters the Gulf. Coastal sections begin positioning personnel and equipment for re-entry, etc. However, the 'boots on the ground' work begins once emergency operations officials call for an evacuation.
Any changes to the evacuation route are discussed between TxDOT and the Texas Department of Public Safety. Each agency works together to make sure there isn't going to be any major problem if a change is implemented.
Believe it or not, each evacuation has proved to be different. During Andrew in the early 90's, there wasn't ANY planned evacuation route. Before Andrew, few had really faced a Category 5 storm. When the order to leave was given, everyone hit the road and went in whatever direction they wanted to go. That turned every highway in Southeast Texas into a parking lot and every intersection into a four-way stop.
Andrew showed the area needed a plan. That plan was put to the test with a little-known storm called Lilly. While Lilly didn't hit our area, it showed the plan worked. Granted, many didn't evacuate. However, the new plan showed that keeping traffic moving northward was the best course to take.
Fast-forward about a decade and you have Hurricane Rita. Rita's evacuation traffic was a nightmare. Much of this was due to Galveston traffic coming into our evacuation route. This, and the fact the evacuation was one of the largest in U.S. history, made evacuating an experience few will ever forget. Everyone headed northward, including Houston traffic. Rita taught us to make sure Houston stays out of our routes...and we stay out of their routes.
Gustav brought another change to traffic flow. Those who chose to leave, traveled westward mostly on I-10 and SH 105. Those routes were heavily congested. Traffic was then diverted northward on SH 146. Interestingly, U.S. 69 and U.S. 96 were flowing quite nicely.
Hurricane Ike moved traffic in pretty much the same direction as Gustav. Again, most northward evacuation routes were moving along with little congestion. However, once again, it would have been another story if Houston had decided to call for an evacuation.
To sum it up, keeping traffic moving northward is the smart route. Unfortunately, we can't have different routes for different storms. Hurricanes are unpredictable.
Once the evacuation begins, TxDOT monitors traffic flow along all evacuation routes. Using cameras and maintenance crews, TxDOT and DPS make any needed changes to the traffic flow.
A couple of years ago, TxDOT designated the shoulders on some routes as "EvacuLanes". These can be used as an extra northbound travel lane ONLY when approved during the evacuation. Opening those lanes too soon cause more confusion for motorists, not to mention a potentially dangerous situation. EvacuLanes are easy to spot. They have hurricane symbols painted on the pavement. You'll know they are open for use during an evacuation because traffic cones and/or crews will guide you to the lane.
Contraflow is simply using the southbound lane of a highway for northbound traffic. It works great on the interstate. It's dangerous on a rural two-lane highway because there are so many driveways and other entrance points. It only takes one person to head south to have a head-on collision on a hill. DPS and TxDOT are very reluctant to use them as Rita proved they didn't work quite as well as hoped for.
Goods and Services
Hurricane Rita showed the need to ensure plenty of fuel is available to evacuees. Therefore, emergency planners, working with the private sector, have designed a system to keep designated service stations along the route supplied with plenty of fuel. This will help keep vehicles fueled and traffic moving.
Evacuating Southeast Texas is a major undertaking; more than opening the barn doors and letting everyone head off in any direction. A systematic and orderly flow is essential.
Yet there is one very important point to all of this: During every single evacuation, including Hurricane Andrew, everyone was off the road long before the storm made it to the coast. Simply put, the highways were empty, and drivers safely off the road before the storm hit.
Hopefully, we won't have to evacuate this year. But if we do, remember a couple of things.
1. Beat the rush. Leave early if you can. You can leave before and evacuation is called.
2. Fuel up. Keep your tank full so you won't have to fight for a place in line.
3. Be prepared. Have your important documents ready to go if an evacuation is called.
4. Know your route. Don't plan it as you travel. Know your destination.
For the latest routes, visit: www.txdot.gov
Thursday, May 21, 2009
It's the holiday that kicks off the summer travel season. The AAA expects more than 32 million Americans will travel away from home this Memorial Day Weekend, most of them by motor vehicle. With gas prices lower than last summer, travel experts say you'll probably see more people traveling area highways.
Here's a couple of tips that could help your travel go a bit smoother and save you a lot of trouble.
--Check your spare tire. Believe it or not, many people hit the road with a flat spare tire. Some don't even have a spare tire. Make sure it's ready to go in case you get a flat. Nothing worse than being in the middle of the interstate with a flat tire only to find you don't have a working spare.
--Check your vehicle's fluids. That includes your brake, power steering, oil and coolant levels. If you have an automatic transmission, make sure to check the transmission fluid level. Not sure where to check your fluid levels? Take it to your local service center. Might not be a bad time to get an oil change while you are at it.
--Pack some jumper cables and a gallon of water. They may come in handy if you get stranded or if your vehicle overheats.
--Check travel conditions. Be prepared to leave a bit earlier, or later, if weather conditions change. Don't forget to see if there is any road construction. Visit www.txdot.gov/travel/road_conditions.htm for Texas road conditions. You can also visit www.dotd.la.gov/construction/ for a list of Louisiana road closures
--Don't drink and drive. It's really a no-brainer. Don't ruin your vacation by spending it in jail for driving intoxicated. Stay sober when driving. The life you save could be your own.
--Buckle Up. Don't forget "Click it or Ticket". Law enforcement will be out in full force this Memorial Day Weekend. Remember: Drivers and front seat passengers must be buckled up. Back seat passengers under 17 years old must be buckled up and children under 5 years of age and 36 inches must be in a child safety seat.
--Watch out for the other guy. Be prepared for those who, even though they have a driver's license, still haven't learned how to drive. Drive defensively.
--Finally, have a great weekend!
If you are one of the approximately 21,000 people who drive US 69 through Lumberton each day, this is one post you don't want to miss.
To simply put it, driving US 69 through Lumberton can be a big pain in the neck. Morning and evening rush-hour traffic often comes to a standstill. And many are wondering if there is any relief in sight.
First, the reasons for the congestion.
Lumberton's population continues to grow at a pace few ever imagined possible. Development, especially in the housing industry, continues to boom. However, there's been little planning on how to handle the growth. Businesses continue to spring up all along the highway adding more congestion and traffic problems. Several years ago, TxDOT installed a left center-turn lane which eased some of the congestion. However, it wasn't (or was it ever expected to be) a complete solution to the problem.
Now for the solutions.
Recently, our Traffic Operations staff made several changes to the signals that have made it a bit easier to move through the city. With the exception of two signals, the department gave longer green lights to US 69 traffic. The signals at FM 421 and Candlestick were not adjusted due to the heavy traffic volume at those intersections. These changes mean side-street traffic will have to wait a bit longer. However, the re-timing of these signals seems to have had a positive impact. While not perfect, it has helped traffic flow.
Widening the highway is what is needed for the long run. The district continues to work on plans to widen the highway. The goal is to make it into a five-lane roadway between FM 421 and Beaumont Colony Drive. To do so means purchasing the needed property along the route. In 2007, TxDOT held a public meeting showing the different designs we are considering.
Then came the money crunch all of Texas (and the rest of the nation for that matter) is finding itself in terms of transportation dollars.
With the exception of projects already under construction, all future projects, including consultants who design many of our projects, were temporarily put on hold. The situation continues today. While things are still at a standstill, we are working towards getting the needed right-of-way. And, once funding becomes available for this and many other projects across the district and state, TxDOT will once again work toward getting the project to construction.
The bottom line is that US 69 will be widened. After all, we are a highway building and transportation agency. Our engineers love to build roads and improve our transportation system. And, as much as we wish construction on US 69 could begin tomorrow, work will not take place until Texas is able to tackle the transportation funding problem.
The US 69 project isn't dead. It just means it will have to simmer a bit longer.
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
Here's an old photograph some of you might find interesting. No, it's not a group of motorists waiting for another wreck to clear on I-10.
This one is the grand opening ceremonies for I-10 in Orange County. Apparently, back then, they were able to stop traffic and hold a nice ribbon cutting. Don't try that with today's traffic. You might find yourself part of the pavement.
This picture probably comes from a section just east of Orange.
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
The small community of Kirbyville in Southeast Texas has a bit more to brag about besides their awesome football team. The school is $1000 richer because of their efforts to cleanup their community.
25 members of the High School Student Council recently sponsored a community-wide cleanup. They hung posters throughout the campus and asked the local Chamber of Commerce to join them in the cleanup. The group choose Magnolia park as their cleanup site, picking up not only trash, but lots of debris left by Hurricane Ike.
Kirbyville High competed against 45 other organizations to win the money as part of the Texas Department of Transportation's "Don't Mess with Texas" Trash4Cash contest. The Wildcats were one of only five high schools that walked away with the prize.
Last year, TxDOT introduced the first-ever Trash4Cash contest student group competition, challenging any Texas high school student organization to get rid of litter in their communities. The Keep Texas Beautiful organization sponsored the competition along with Raytheon, which donated $5,000 for the grand prize, allowing each school group to win $1,000 for their individual programs.
Great job Wildcats! Kirbyville, Jasper County, and all of Texas appreciates your hard work.
Friday, May 15, 2009
Hate wearing a seatbelt? Like throwing away $200 of your hard-earned cash?
If you answered 'yes' to both of those questions, then you may want to stay off the highway, especially until the end of the month. Throughout the rest of May, law enforcement will be out in full force looking for seatbelt violators. It's part of this year's "Click it or Ticket" campaign. Fines for not wearing a seatbelt could cost you a couple of hundred bucks.
Some interesting facts about those who don't buckle up. If you drive a pickup truck, or even ride in one, you are less likely to wear a safety belt than those in cars. Women tend to wear seatbelts more than men. Also, front seat passengers don't weat their safety belts as often as the driver.
--Vehicle wrecks are the leading cause of death for Texans between one and 34 years old.
--In 2007, more Texans were killed in pickup trucks than in any other type of vehicle.
--Of all passengers kill in Texas wrecks in 2007, nearly half weren't buckled up.
--Wearing a safety belt in a passenger vehicle increases your odds for survivial by 50.
If you are one of those folks who think $200 is easy money, then consider this: Lost wages, medical expenses, repairs, taxes, increased insurance premiums, travel delays, and lost quality of life resulting from a crash add up to $3.3 million per death and $35,000 per injury.
Drive safe and watch out for the other guy.
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
One of the biggest...and most impressive projects...in the Beaumont District is the Trinity River Bridge reconstruction project.
It's hard to miss. If you've ever traveled to Houston along I-10, you have traveled across the narrow and very high old bridge. (Some great scenery from that height, too) You've probably also wondered just what TxDOT is building right along side this old tribute to highway engineering.
The Trinity River Bridge was built in the 50's as part of the interstate construction program. That makes it more than 50 years old. Traffic has taken its toll on the structure and design standards are different today than they were in the days of 'Leave it to Beaver'. So, it's time to rebuild. It's not that the old structure is dangerous or about to fall down. Maintenance costs are getting expensive and it's time to update.
As for the construction project...
Construction began in late 2006 at a cost of about $62 million. In reality, there are two bridges that will be built; one that is currently under construction and another that will be built when the old one is demolished. The new bridges are what are called segmental bridges. This simply means they are being built in segments that fit together and are held by tendons.
Once construction on the first bridge (on the north side of the interstate) is complete, all traffic will be placed on the new bridge. Workers will then tear out the old bridge and build another structure just like the one that is now being constructed. Once that bridge is finished, one bridge will handle three lanes of eastbound traffic while the other will handle three lanes of westbound traffic.
Aside from the fact they will be new bridge, you'll notice a couple of other things. First, the approaches to the bridges will be much more gradual than what you have on the current Trinity River Bridge. Also, the new bridges will be a little lower than the old bridge. (The Trinity River is considered a navigable waterway and therefore means the Coast Guard has to approve the height of the bridges.)
When will it be completed? TxDOT and the contractor, Williams Brothers, expect everything to wrap up in a couple of years. It's a big project that takes time. But when completed, the new structures will make traveling I-10 will be a bit easier. Especially since much of I-10 will already be 6-lane through nearly all of Chambers County.
Monday, May 11, 2009
Word comes today as to the toll rates for the new SH 99 project in Chambers County.
Last week we posted information about how TxDOT, working with the Harris County Toll Road Authority, is working to establish a toll rate for the new highway stretching from I-10 to SH 146.
TxDOT administration has decided to postpone collecting tolls for several months. That's good news for those who travel the highway. The decision was made as the department waits to see the outcome of SB 792.
On another note....
The answer to "Pic" the location is a pretty simple one. It's the 16th Street and I-10 interchange in Orange County. Of course, it's from long ago and shows the interstate with just a few vehicles.
Eventually, as money becomes available, the interchange will be completely rebuilt. Hopefully, frontage roads will span the tracks just east of the interchange. All of this depends on how much funding becomes available in the next several years.
Check out tomorrow's posting. We're looking to put up some information on the Trinity River Bridge reconstruction project. It's one of the more popular projects and comes at the request of one of our readers, Justin Yarbrough.
Friday, May 8, 2009
Tuesday, May 5, 2009
Even in this day of progress and modernization, you occasionally run into a bit of nostalgia, even on the highway. Take, for instance, the SH 82 causeway bridge in south Jefferson County.
The causeway bridge goes back to October 1958 when Jefferson County opened it as a toll bridge. In 1976, TxDOT took over 10 miles of SH 82, including the bridge, and removed the toll. Since then, the causeway bridge has continued to operate and serve motorists and those occassional boaters traveling to and from the Gulf of Mexico. For years, the old swing bridge has barely survived barges and hurricanes. But it hasn't survived progress and high maintenance costs.
Funded by FEMA, TxDOT is now building a new bridge along side the old structure. Austin Bridge began construction on the new bridge in December 2007 at a cost of about $21 million. The new bridge will have several benefits over the old swingbridge.
First, it will not need the constant maintenance and upkeep the swing bridge requires. Keeping the mechanisms that open and close the bridge in top shape is serious business, not to mention expensive, especially in this saltwater environment. Second, there will no longer be a need to have someone at the site to open and close the bridge everytime a boat wants to come through. Third, the new bridge will have a much better chance of surviving hurricanes without having to be closed due to damage. Hurricanes Rita and Ike both moved the old swingbridge decking 6 inches, forcing TxDOT to close it to traffic.
The new bridge will be 65' high allowing sailboats in the Port Arthur Yacht Club to travel under it without having to take the 1000' cut on the northern end of Lake Sabine.
As for the old causeway bridge, it will be removed. Rumors of it being turned into a fishing pier are just that: rumors. That's unless some other entity wants to take it over and turn it into something for those who love to fish off old bridges. But with that comes the cost of maintaining it; something TxDOT just isn't able to do financially.
If you're looking for something to do this weekend, drive over the old causeway bridge and check out the new construction. It will also be a chance for you to take one last look at a piece of Southeast Texas history.
Ever wonder where our country got the idea for the interstate highway system? Believe it or not, the idea for a four-lane highway is not an American concept. In fact, we took it from one of the most notorious leaders the world has ever fought.
The story begins prior to World War II when Dwight D. Eisenhower was looking for a way to get troops and supplies from one side of our country to the other. During an exercise, Eisenhower quickly discovered that the two-lane (and often muddy) road system winding its way through towns and cities was not going to do the job. Then came the War.
Adolph Hitler and Germany had been preparing for war for several years. Knowing that getting men and supplies to the front quickly was crucial, Hitler's regime built a massive highway system which linked industrial cities and the front. This made it possible for the Germans to produce tanks and other equipment and get them directly to the front lines in the shortest amount of time. Look at a current road map of Germany and you can still see that old strategy. Those highways stretch out toward the east and west.
During the waning days of the war, Eisenhower's army discovered this highway system while marching toward Berlin. That's when the lightbulb when off in his head that this was the kind of system America needed to be secure and ready in a moments notice.
The picture above shows Germany's highway system, or Autobahn, built in the early 30's, before he invaded Poland. Notice the median and wide travel lanes. Today, while some things are different in terms of shoulders, signage and safety improvements, not much has changed since this picture was taken.
We'll try and find some other historic photos showing highways from long ago and post them to the blog.
Monday, May 4, 2009
Look on any Texas highway map and you will find a thin line along the coastal stretch between Sabine Pass and High Island known as SH 87. For all practical purposes, the 17-mile highway no longer exists thanks to the many storms that have washed it into the Gulf of Mexico.
The future of SH 87? Many people wonder when the highway will be rebuilt. Others, however, ask "if" the highway will ever be reconstructed.
The last time vehicles were allowed to travel the highway was in October of 1989. That's when another one of those hurricanes washed away a vast portion of the road into the gulf. Today. any rebuilding means major environmental hurdles. And any rebuilding is not as easy as some would have others to believe.
First, any new roadway would have to be constructed much further inland. After all, that just makes sense. Why spend many millions of dollars on rebuilding the road when all it takes is another storm to destroy it, correct? But building it inland means going through the heart of environmentally protected wetlands. That's where all those hurdles come into play. Several natural resource agencies have to give it their blessing before any type of construction can begin. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are just some of those agencies that have to give a "green light" to any project. That's been a major hurdle for Jefferson County officials to overcome. (Jefferson County would be responsible for purchasing the needed right-of-way and need the environmental permit called a "404 Permit" to begin purchasing the property for any new road.) So far, the answer has been "no".
Second, even if those agencies do approve the environmental permits for the project, finding the needed money will be very difficult. Years ago, TxDOT estimated it would take $20-$30 million to build a new road. That number is much higher today. With all the budget cuts affecting highway work throughout the nation, finding the needed money will be a monumental task.
Will SH 87 ever be rebuilt? It's hard to say. Nobody's ruling it out. However, the chances look pretty bleak that new pavement will hit the ground. And with more storms hitting the Upper Texas Coast, chances of a new highway anytime soon are quickly eroding.