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Mobility Matters - Images of a freight truck traveling on a highway, downtown Fort Worth, a TRE locomotive, downtown Dallas skyline and highway traffic; Celebrating 35 Years of Regional Transportation Excellence, 1974 - 2009

Public-Private Partnership Moving Rail Improvements Forward at Tower 55
Preparing 'our Future' for the Future
      A Message from Michael Morris, Transportation Director

Washington Follows Unusual Path to DFW Airport Board
     Member Profile, Bernice J. Washington, Board Member, Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport
Outreach Center in Southern Dallas to Help Trucks Operate More Efficiently
TEXpress Lanes: A New Way to Drive in D-FW
Record Number Take Action for Clean Air
Annual Transportation Report Now Available
Help Us Celebrate Our 40th Birthday

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Public-Private Partnership Moving Rail Improvements Forward at Tower 55

Trains rolled through Fort Worth on a recent summer day carrying a variety of commodities bound for places across the state and nation. The sheer volume of trains coming through this North Texas rail hub can mean long delays moving goods to market. 

Much like an influx of cars results in roadways becoming congested, the Tower 55 area near downtown Fort Worth is often a rail bottleneck, as trains traveling in all directions can back up for miles. 

Tower 55 is the area near downtown Fort Worth where operations for both freight and passenger rail converge. Fort Worth-based BNSF Railway, Union Pacific Railroad, Fort Worth & Western Railroad and Amtrak and the Trinity Railway Express all operate through the area. Although Trinity Railway Express trains use track to the north of the intersection and do not pass directly through it, they can be affected by Tower 55 traffic.

 

Photo: BNSF train
Photo: NCTCOG

A $100 million-plus project to ease congestion of Fort Worth’s Tower 55 will improve safety and mobility for the trains passing through the busy intersection and motorists on nearby streets. An additional north-south track being installed through the area will result in products being shipped more quickly to market. 

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A joint project undertaken by Union Pacific and BNSF, with the help of a federal grant, will improve the flow of goods and enhance safety in the area. 

“Congestion at Tower 55 affects all Dallas-Fort Worth railroads, not just BNSF and UP,” said Joseph Faust, director of public affairs for BNSF. “With rail freight volumes expected to grow with time, congestion at Tower 55 will have an increasingly negative impact on North Texans’ quality of life.” 

Initial construction on the expansion of one of the nation’s busiest at-grade rail intersections has begun. Soon, more trains will be able to move through the area, at even faster speeds. After years of delays on the tracks around Tower 55, relief is in sight. Much of the work on the project, worth more than $100 million, going on this summer consists of clearing and grading the areas where track will be laid. By the end of the year, BNSF is expected to be finished with most of its part of the project. UP will complete most of its heavy work in 2014. The expansion project will be wrapped up by the end of 2014. 

 

Currently, trains come through the interchange, which consists of two north-south tracks and two tracks running east to west, at about 10 mph. They sometimes have to wait in Saginaw or Crowley before being cleared to pass through the Tower 55 area.

But when the improvements, including a third track running from north to south, are completed next year, the speed limit through the tower area will be 30 mph. Improvements to track alignment and new switches will also promote faster travel.

“The ultimate goal is to increase the capacity through Tower 55, allowing more trains to move through the area and doing so quickly and doing so quickly and efficiently,” said Clint E. Schelbitzki, director of public affairs for UP. 

The project is funded through a public-private partnership including $65 million from UP and BNSF and a $34 million grant from the federal government. The North Central Texas Council of Governments pledged $2.5 million toward engineering; the Texas Department of Transportation and Fort Worth each gave $1 million for the project.

In addition to more efficient train traffic, the Tower 55 enhancements are expected to lead to a better automobile flow on surrounding streets and boost safety for children living and going to school nearby. A rail crossing at Peach Street, not far from Charles E. Nash Elementary School, will be closed, and an elevated pedestrian crossing is planned. This will eliminate a risk to children who encounter it on their way to and from school. 

Schelbitzki said Tower 55 is “a unique choke point” affecting shippers, industries and neighborhoods, alike. 

Improvements
Photo: NCTCOG

Whether trains are moving plastics from the Texas Gulf Coast; export grain to Texas ports; consumer goods between the West Coast ports, North Texas and the Southeast; or low-sulfur coal destined for Texas utilities, they will likely move through Tower 55. 

Not improving the intersection could cause several future problems constraining both economic growth and mobility, Faust said. Less cargo would be able to move by rail, causing the roads to become busier, and growth at the region’s logistics hubs would be constrained, he said. The benefits will not just be economic. They will also extend to air quality, which will prove helpful since 10 Dallas-Fort Worth area counties are in nonattainment for ozone pollution and are working on meeting the Environmental Protection Agency’s standard. 

The project will result in reduced emissions from locomotives moving through the area – with fewer idling for less time – and fewer vehicles waiting at grade crossings. In addition, the increased emissions that occur with the diversion of trains to other North Texas lines when Tower 55 reaches capacity would be eliminated.  


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Preparing 'our Future' for the Future
A Message from Michael Morris, Transportation Director

2013 has already been a full year in transportation, and it’s only summer. Agreements have been reached to bring significant projects into focus. Multimillion-dollar improvements have begun. Some projects are almost complete and will soon begin unclogging traffic in corridors across the region. One of those, the DFW Connector, should be open this summer. On the eastern side of the region, part of the LBJ Express will open later in 2013. 

This is all work that started years ago. We can be proud of these projects because they will leave a legacy for future generations. 

 

Graphic: Winning artwork

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Our region will look vastly different by 2035, when our infrastructure will need to support a population of about 10 million people. Today, that number is 6.7 million, and we all are familiar with how congested our roads can get, preventing us from moving efficiently. 

By 2035, the youth of today will be making decisions. Based on what I have witnessed recently, we should all have great confidence they will have the creativity and know-how to address the complex transportation challenges we must solve to remain a growing and vibrant region. We don’t get a chance to interact with students enough, but on two recent occasions, our staff was able to spend time with some impressive students. 

Each year, the North Central Texas Council of Governments partners with Fort Worth Independent School District to mentor students for a week as a part of the Vital Link program. The idea is to help them see how what they learn in school can be applied in the real world. Maybe we can even be a small part of inspiring them to pursue the education necessary to realize their dreams. 

We would like to think we teach them a few things about transportation, but one thing is for sure. We always walk away enlightened by them and thankful for the experience. 

It’s often said that today’s students are tomorrow’s leaders. They won’t all become transportation planners or policymakers, but if they live in the region, they will have life experiences that can help us build better communities. 

I had the pleasure to represent our staff along with then-RTC Chair Pete Kamp at Strickland Middle School in Denton ISD this spring to recognize the accomplishments of some of these aspiring leaders. We asked them to illustrate futuristic bridges in our “Bridging Today with Tomorrow” art contest, and the creations we received inspire confidence in me that the decision-makers of the future will take the advances being made today and improve upon them for the betterment of the region. Our students are bright, creative and ambitious, all characteristics that will help them excel no matter what professions they choose. 

I want to congratulate Sabina Howell, whose bridge is on the cover of Progress North Texas 2013, our annual transportation report, and all the other participants. Sabina skillfully included highway lanes, a rail line and room for bicycles and pedestrians, as did many of the others. In all, we received more than 40 entries, all of which you can see in an online slideshow at www.nctcog.org/ourregion

They were excellent, thoughtful pieces, and I was honored to help recognize the top three students who participated. 

By involving students in the process now, whether through a mentoring program or an art contest, we aim to inspire them to improve in the decades to come. We hope these assignments were not only fun, but also challenged them to think about how to overcome the mobility problems we will face from now until they grow up. 

As long as our region continues to attract business relocations and produce well-educated professionals to fill needed jobs, our transportation system will need constant monitoring and improvement. We believe our multipronged approach, involving different modes of travel, is the right one. It provides choices and accounts for the differences that naturally exist in such a diverse region. 

However, we will still need the leadership and know-how to move this approach forward. That’s where the students of today come in. After all … it is rewarding to prepare ‘our future’ for the future.  

Photo (Denton ISD): Art contest winners and officials
Photo: Denton ISD

Sabina Howell, center, holds a copy of the winning cover design for Progress North Texas at a recent reception to honor the top finishers of the art contest held in conjunction with Denton ISD. Also pictured (from left) are Michael Morris, NCTCOG transportation director; Tiffany Fitzsimmons, Strickland Middle School art teacher; Daniela Pineda, third place; Nathan Fortune, second place; Pete Kamp, former Regional Transportation Council chair; and Dr. Jim Alexander, DISD trustee and former NCTCOG Executive Board president.   

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Photo: Bernice J. Washington, Board Member, Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport

Washington Follows Unusual Path to DFW Airport Board
Member Profile - Bernice J. Washington, Board Member, Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport

Bernice J. Washington remembers a trip aboard the Shinkansen bullet train in Japan. It was a life-changing experience for Washington, a board member for Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. 

“How a train could move that fast along a given path and have as smooth of a ride as it did,” she said, “it was just the ultimate.” 

But Washington hasn’t always zipped through the countryside at high speeds. For a short time, as a girl growing up in rural Louisiana, her mode of transportation was anything but fast. Before her father bought a car, Washington said, she and her family relied on a wagon to get around. Still, she learned transportation lessons that help her even now. 

“The only way we could get from place to place was with two mules and a wagon,” she said. “And I noticed that the roads had a direct impact on how we got around; and of course, later, we got a car, and those roads became even more important.” 

Where roads were built, houses followed. Those new residents needed places to shop, so stores were erected nearby. 

“So, it was early on that I realized there was a direct correlation between economic development and roads and transportation and how you get from place to place,” Washington said. 

Later, she was introduced to an even faster mode of travel. As a freshman at Southern University, she flew for the first time, from Baton Rouge to New York. “Coming from rural Louisiana, where I literally grew up chopping and picking cotton, it was a monumental day,” she said. “ … It amazed me how you could get from Baton Rouge to, literally, New York in about 2 ó hours.” 

The drive from her house to Shreveport took about an hour, and the wagon ride was four, she said. 

To this day, Washington is amazed by the physics of flight. Although the CEO of her own consulting firm, with an extensive background in the healthcare industry, she still cannot fathom how a passenger jet, which can weigh more than 100,000 pounds, can stay aloft for such a long time. 

 

Many problems encountered in Arlington have been dealt with in other cities and vice versa, and talking through the issues and how they’ve been managed in other parts of the region is beneficial.

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This didn’t stop her from joining the DFW Airport Board in 2008. One of her roles as a member of the board is to attract new flights. Every new flight that is recruited, she says, adds about $150 million to the region’s economy annually. For businesses looking to relocate to an area, transportation is one of the top factors, as it was for AT&T, which moved from San Antonio to Dallas in 2008. 

Washington said it is important to pursue ways to streamline the decision-making process and funding mechanisms to facilitate future expansion of the region. 

She sees herself as a resultsoriented leader. NCTCOG has effectively put together the right stakeholders, but there is room for improvement, she said. 

It will take educating elected officials of the importance of transportation and funding infrastructure. And that is something the RTC spends a great deal of time doing. 

The region is no longer competing against only US markets such as Houston, Atlanta and Los Angeles. “Now, our competition is on the other side of the globe. We literally are competing on a daily basis with businesses around the world,” she said. “… Our competition now is China, Japan. All of the players around the world are our direct competition.” In such an environment, businesses must be sold on the attributes of the US and North Texas before deciding to enter this market, she said. 

Transportation is in the top three for just about any company looking to relocate, she said. 

She wants the region to think big because the ways issues were addressed a decade ago need to evolve. 

“Getting the right people at the table, the right people on the bus in the right seat at the right point in time is the solution,” said Washington, known as a straight shooter able to bring opposing sides together. “And, quite frankly, we’ve got to get a new bus because what worked 10 years ago as a means of resolving transportation issues will not work in the future. And it’s simply because the world is light years ahead of us in certain arenas.” 

For example, she can’t board a train for Houston, San Antonio or anywhere in the US and get there in a flash like she did in Japan. “In the US, we don’t have any high-speed (ground) transportation to speak of,” she said. “And the rest of the world has seen the value and has made the investment to make that happen. And we have not done that just yet. So, we’re at a critical decision point in the history of North Texas in general, but the United States specifically.” 

Texas Central High-Speed Railway is working to introduce high speed rail service between Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston, but that wouldn’t happen for a decade, according to the company’s website. Although it took her a little longer, Washington has experienced more than most when it comes to transportation. “We’ve got masses of people, so how do we get them from point A to point B?” she said. “That’s the same question I was asking when I was riding in that wagon in rural Louisiana.”  

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Mobility Matters is prepared in cooperation with the Texas Department of Transportation and the U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration and Federal Transit Administration. The contents of this report reflect the views of the authors who are responsible for the opinions, findings and conclusions presented herein. The contents do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Federal Highway Administration, the Federal Transit Administration or the Texas Department of Transportation.

10/18/2016  03/17/2009 JS

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