Testimony Provided to Members of the
United States Senate
On Transportation and Infrastructure
August 11, 2003
Provided by Mayor John David Franz
City of Hidalgo
Good morning, Chairman Inhofe and welcome to Texas and the Rio Grande Valley. We are honored to have you here and appreciate the opportunity to provide information to you and our other guests. As always, Senator Cornyn, welcome, and thank you for being here again. And, Chairman Johnson, we appreciate your frequent visits and interest in our region since your appointment three years ago to the Texas Transportation Commission.
As a mayor, I have to spend a few minutes talking about my special city. Hidalgo is an old city with the, first settlement founded in 1749. We are located six miles south of McAllen. We are not a large city, population-wise, but we have grown substantially in the last few decades. We have three times the number of people we had in 1980. One of our primary business sectors is trade, with our city being home to a number of custom brokers and freight companies. Over 11,000,000 vehicles cross the McAllen/Hidalgo Bridge annually going to and from Mexico. Almost 700,000 trucks cross at the Pharr Bridge. We are working on plans for a new bridge at Anzalduas to help meet the ever-increasing volume of crossings between Texas and Mexico.
Our proximity to Mexico, our historical connection with our friends on the other side of the river, our position in the ever-expanding web of trade between Texas, the United States and Mexico and our explosive regional population growth, leads me to talk about a number of specific challenges and issues related to transportation. And, I would like to talk about some of regional and state initiatives that address these challenges.
One of the newer challenges is homeland security versus the movement of trade and the flow between our communities. Communities and individuals on either side of the river have been connected for generations. We go back and forth to visit, to shop, and to conduct business. Even prior to 9-11, we had seen restrictions that affected the daily flow of life between communities along the border. Since 9-11, the number of restrictions has compounded and the complexity of the rules threatens to severely hamper our lives and the economy of our nation. An example is the new truck inspection system and stations. Inside the stations, USDOT enforces a set of regulations. Just outside these stations, the Texas Department of Public Safety enforces truck regulations. Unfortunately, the rules are not the same, creating considerable confusion for drivers and companies.
As Senator Cornyn has said, “our immigration system is broken.” Thank you, Senator, for your legislative efforts, to address this problem and the effects of this system on our daily lives. Dinner, shopping and visiting friends in another country is something the border citizens In the US and in Mexico were used to doing on a regular basis. Our past, but more importantly our future, are inexorably linked, and separating our realities is impractical and will damage the economies and relationships between our countries.
Please know that we want our communities and nation to be safe. We do not want unsafe trucks on our streets or threats to our security, but we may all be experiencing an over-reaction that does not necessarily translate into increased security or safety. Further, there is concern that our border be treated equally with U.S.-Canadian border. We stand ready to work with you at the Federal level and the state level to address the challenges, and we believe that our direct and long-term experience with the issues of movement across a border would assist you in developing solutions. However, we need to be included in the formulation of these solutions and have the opportunity to help develop workable policies and regulations
A second challenge that I see is just the physical infrastructure required to move the increasing volumes of trade. Approximately 80% of all U.S. trade with Mexico goes by truck and approximately 80 % of that truck traffic crosses the Texas border. Therefore, 54% of all truck traffic carrying U.S.-Mexico trade comes through Texas. Some days it seems like all those trucks are on U.S.-77, U.S.-83 and U.S.-281 in the Valley.
Had we envisioned this decades ago, perhaps we could have planned our communities differently. But, long before there were trucks, we were river settlements with crossings to Mexico. So, all those trucks are funneled from the major highways onto roadways not designed for that type of traffic and too often on roadways with traffic lights, schools and normal urban traffic. This impacts us, but it also impacts businesses in San Antonio, Dallas, Houston, Oklahoma and beyond. These delays cost time and money, and they obviously affect our lives.
Two of the solutions to help with these problems of truck congestion and freight movement are interstate level highways into our region and improved direct connections, especially for trucks, from these highways to the bridges. Easy to say, but there is the persistent problem of the dollars to make these projects happen. Like Oklahoma, we would appreciate being something less of a donor state in terms of the fuel tax, but we recognize that even more fuel tax money will not necessarily supply the level of funds needed.
Texas took a bold step in the recently passed HB 3588, which will provide new financial tools at the state level. We thank Chairman Johnson, the Commission and the Department for their work on this landmark legislation. We are ready to work with you on passage of the constitutional amendment; Proposition 14, to allow TxDOT to issue bonds, on using regional mobility authorities to fiend projects and on encouraging the use of other tools such as development agreements and leases.
There are also some ways we can save dollars, as you have recognized Senator Inhofe, and as the Commission proposes in their “Texas Transportation Priorities” prepared for their work with the 108th Congress. The maze of our current environmental processes creates delays in projects and cost substantial money. If the results were tangible in terms of protecting our natural resources and creating new habitats, then it would be worthwhile. Unfortunately, far too often it seems, it is process that seems geared to collecting data and studies rather mitigating impacts or improving the natural environment. You go from agency to agency, encounter conflicting rules, experience staff changes that send you back to square one and watch millions of dollars being spent to produce huge and complicated documents. Trees are felled and energy consumed to produce stacks of paper in order to save forests.
As you have noted, Chairman Inhofe, it is time to re-think our environmental regulations in order to protect the environment and have a strong economy in the future. A side benefit will be the potential to dedicate more transportation funds to maintaining and building infrastructure, which can certainly include environmental features. I applaud your efforts at the national and state level to develop more efficient environmental processes, and I am ready to help you if I can be of assistance.
Chairman Johnson, I hope you will let me know what I can do to help with Proposition 14 and support your priorities as the work on reauthorization of the surface transportation continues. Chairman Inhofe and Senator Cornyn, if there is any information or assistance I can provide to you or your staff, then it would be my honor to assist.
Again, thank you all for visiting us in the heat of the summer, and for all the work you do for Texas and for these great United States.