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Featured: A day after hearing from the leaders of Texas’ major public transportation leaders, Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, left, who is Chair of the House Committee on Transportation, will be informally meeting with his constituents and other South Texans on Thursday, February 14, 2019, during a reception – which is free and open to the public – to be held at 3:30 p.m. at Edinburg City Hall, 314 W. University Drive. The gathering is being hosted by the Edinburg mayor and Edinburg City Council. Shown with Canales in this image, which was taken on Thursday, August 16, 2018, is former Hidalgo County Judge J.D. Salinas, III, who is Director, External Affairs, A&TT, in San Antonio.

Photograph By ALEX RÍOS

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Rep. Terry Canales, Chair of House Committee on Transportation, set to meet and greet South Texans during public reception at 3:30 p.m. on Thursday, February 14, at Edinburg City Hall

By DAVID A. DÍAZ
Legislativemedia@aol.com

A day after hearing from key leaders of Texas’ major public transportation leaders, Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, who is Chair of the House Committee on Transportation, will be meeting and greeting his constituents and other South Texans on Thursday, February 14, 2019, in Edinburg.

The Edinburg Mayor and Edinburg City Council are hosting a reception, which is free and open to the public, beginning at 3:30 p.m. at Edinburg City Hall, 314 W. University Drive.

Canales leads the powerful 13-member House committee which has major influence on proposals that will affect the fate of transportation and transit in the state.

A committee is a group of legislators appointed by the presiding officer of the House of Representatives (Speaker of the House Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton) or the Senate (Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, R-Houston) to which proposed legislation is referred to a specific task is assigned.

The Chair is a legislator appointed to preside over a legislative committee.

(https://tlc.texas.gov/docs/legref/Glossary.pdf)

In addition to Canales, the legislative panel includes:

Rep. Brooks Landgraf, R-Odessa, who serves as Vice Chair;
Rep. Diego Bernal, D-San Antonio;
Rep. Yvonne Davis, D-Dallas;
Rep. Craig Goldman, R-Ft. Worth;
Rep. Cole Hefner, R-Mt. Pleasant;
Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth;
Rep. Ben Leman, R-Anderson;
Rep. Armando Martinez, D-Weslaco;
Rep. Evelina “Lina” Ortega, D-El Paso;
Rep. John Raney, R-College Station;
Rep. Shawn Thierry, D-Houston; and
Rep. Ed Thompson, R-Pearland.

Among the broad powers wielded by the House Committee on Transportation, that committee has jurisdiction over governmental entities, including the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles, the Texas Department of Transportation, and the Texas Transportation Commission, which administer and distribute billions of dollars every two years for projects statewide.

On Wednesday, February 13, 2019, the House Committee on Transportation held its organizational meeting, with Canales asking some of the state government’s top appointed leaders of key transportation commissions and agencies to appear before the legislative panel.

They were asked by Canales to provide the committee and the public, which can view on the Internet all of the meetings of the House Committee on Transportation, background information on their respective agencies and highlights of key issues facing those state agencies, commissions, or boards.

Those sessions, which are broadcast live when the meetings are first held, and then are tape recorded for later viewing, are available at:

https://house.texas.gov/video-audio/committee-broadcasts/

Among those leaders on Wednesday, February 13, 2o19 who presented their respective vision of proposed laws and policies that could go before the House committee for their review and action were:

J. Bruce Bugg, Jr.
Chairman
Texas Transportation Commission

Bugg leads the five-member Texas Transportation Commission, which oversees statewide activities of the Texas Department of Transportation. He was appointed by Gov. Greg Abbott as Commissioner on Feb. 13, 2015, and confirmed by the Texas State Senate on March 17, 2015, for a six-year term. On Sept. 19, 2017, Abbott appointed Bugg as Chairman.

The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT, pronounced “tex-dot”) is a government agency. Though the public face of the agency is generally associated with the construction and maintenance of the state’s immense state highway system, the agency is also responsible for overseeing aviation, rail, and public transportation systems in the state.

(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Texas_Department_of_Transportation)

James M. Bass
Executive Director
Texas Department of Transportation

Previously he oversaw TxDOT’s Financial Management Division, Toll Operations Division, and Project Finance and Debt Management Division. In this role he assists the department’s executive director and management team with oversight of all TxDOT functions, including the management and operation of the state’s transportation system. He is charged with ensuring Texas’ transportation system is planned, constructed and maintained in a cost-effective manner in order to effectively address the state’s growing safety, mobility and reliability needs.

Marc D. Williams, P.E.
Deputy Executive Director
Texas Department of Transportation

In this role he assists the department’s executive director and management team with oversight of all TxDOT functions, including the management and operation of the state’s transportation system. He is charged with ensuring Texas’ transportation system is planned, constructed and maintained in a cost-effective manner in order to effectively address the state’s growing safety, mobility and reliability needs.

Brian Ragland
Chief Financial Officer
Texas Department of Transportation

Ragland began his TxDOT career as the Director of the TxDOT Claims Management Section of the Finance Division in 2003. He left TxDOT in 2005 to pursue an opportunity as Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer of Walden Affordable Group LLC, an affordable housing management firm.
He returned to TxDOT in 2008 and served as director of TxDOT’s Finance Division until 2016.

Whitney H. Brewster
Executive Director
Texas Department of Motor Vehicles

Whitney Brewster is the second executive director to lead the agency since its inception in 2009. She oversees an agency with 763 employees, a biennial budget of over $300 million and more than $1.5 billion in annual revenue collections for the state.

The Texas Department of Motor Vehicles (TxDMV) is a state agency that handles vehicle registration and titling, authorizes operating authorities of motor carriers, and gives grants to law enforcement agencies to increase public awareness about automobile theft and to reduce automobile theft.

Jimmy Archer
Director, Motor Carrier Division
Texas Department of Motor Vehicles

Archer is a seasoned veteran of state service, with 26 years at the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, retiring at that agency as chief of the Criminal Investigations Division.

In addition to leading a division focused on state tax law, he also worked extensively with federal, state and local regulatory agencies, and assisted in the development of the agency’s strategic plan.

Jeremiah Kuntz
Director of the Vehicle Titles & Registration
Texas Department of Motor Vehicles

Kuntz began working for the TxDMV in February, 2011 after having served as Gov. Perry’s Transportation Policy advisor. His first position with TxDMV was as the Director of the Government and Strategic Communication, a division he helped to establish.

Skylor Hearn
Deputy Director
Texas Department of Public Safety

Hearn serves as the Deputy Director over the Administration and Services Branch. Hearn provides oversight and leadership to eight major DPS divisions and units to include the Administration Division; Driver License Division; Education, Training, and Research Division; Finance Division; Information Technology Division; Law Enforcement Support Division; Cyber Security Unit and the Regulatory Services Division. Hearn previously led the Driver License Division as well as the Law Enforcement Support Division.

Chief Ron Joy
Assistant Director
Texas Highway Patrol
Texas Department of Public Safety

The Texas Highway Patrol Division is responsible for general police traffic supervision, traffic, and criminal law enforcement on the rural highways of Texas. The Division’s goal is to help maintain public safety through the efficient and effective administration of the division’s various programs.

Joy began his career with the Department in 1989 as trooper in Odessa. He became a supervisor in the Texas Highway Patrol Division in 1995. He has worked in Odessa, El Paso, Laredo, Midland, and
Austin. Joy was the Highway Patrol Captain in Midland for six years before promoting to Highway Patrol Operations Major at headquarters in 2008. In 2014, Joy was appointed to serve as the Deputy Assistant Director in the Texas Highway Patrol division. He was promoted to Assistant Director, Texas Highway Patrol effective June 1, 2017.

Gregory D. Winfree, J.D.
Agency Director
Texas A&M Transportation Institute

Winfree served as Assistant Secretary, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Research and Technology at the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT), until he was hired in late December 2016 to lead the Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI).

A member of The Texas A&M University System, TTI has a breadth and depth of programs, facilities and capabilities unsurpassed by any other higher-education-affiliated transportation research organization in the United States. With expertise in areas such as engineering, planning, economics, policy, public engagement, landscape architecture, environmental sciences, computer science and the social sciences, TTI researchers serve as objective transportation experts. They provide a resource to local, state and national agencies and groups, helping them solve transportation challenges and make informed decisions.

Legacy of Rep. Geanie W. Morrison on transportation legislation

Canales also had high praise for Rep. Geanie W. Morrison, R-Victoria, who was Chair of the House Committee on Transportation the previous two years.

She is now Chair of the House Committee on Local and Consent Calendars Committee.

“Madam Chair Morrison, in partnership with former Speaker of the House Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, and with the invaluable contributions of her fellow members of the House Committee on Transportation, during the 2017 and 2018 legislative interim, held public hearings throughout the state, and from those meetings, developed a series of important proposed laws and policies for review and action during the current 140-day session by the 86th Texas Legislature,” Canales said.

“Many of those recommendations will come through the 2019-2020 version of the House Committee on Transportation, and I am blessed to have incredible House members serving with me on this committee,” he noted, and pledged, “We are ready, willing and able” to move forward with major legislation in 2019 and beyond.

The following background on transportation needs in Texas was provided as part of Morrison’s committee’s comprehensive Interim Report to the 86th Texas Legislature:

Border Ports of Entry

The one-thousand two-hundred fifty-five mile border that Texas shares with Mexico is one of critical importance to the economy of Texas and the nation. Twenty-eight vehicle-crossing points, including fourteen for commercial vehicles, and four railroad crossings serve as key commerce and tourism links between the two countries.

These crossing points handled more 3.8 million commercial vehicles representing $318 billion in trade between Texas and Mexico in 2016.

This represents an increase of more than seventy-one percent from 2005. The increase in trade has resulted in a predictable increase in the volumes of truck traffic between the two countries. As the volume has increased to seventy-three million tons in 2016, the wait times at the border inspection stations have risen accordingly.

And, these volumes are only expected to rise further with estimates that by 2045 the tonnage volume will reach two hundred eleven million tons. To move across the border from Mexico into Texas, a truck must pass through U.S. Customs and Border Protection booth at which point they may be sent forward or diverted to a secondary inspection. During the inspection, the CBP may also have their inspection augmented by other federal agencies such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Food and Drug Administration, and others.

During this process, federal officials can inspect the truck and trailer, the contents of the load, and the documentation regarding the vehicle and the load. The purpose of the inspection is to prevent the transportation of terrorists, weapons, illegal substances, trafficked individuals, and to ensure that the vehicle and trailer meet U.S. Department of Transportation requirements. After this inspection, which generally takes a few minutes, but may take up to an hour, the truck is then routed to the Texas Department of Public Safety Border Safety Inspection Facility.

Once the vehicle arrives at the DPS facility, it is weighed and visually inspected while the cargo manifest and immigration documents are reviewed. Once this is accepted, the vehicle is allowed to proceed into the country. However, if the vehicle is not in appropriate working order, is overweight, or the documentation is not acceptable, the vehicle proceeds to a secondary inspection facility.

The secondary DPS inspection station conducts more thorough inspections of engines, brake systems, axles and other evaluations to determine operational capability. Vehicles can be removed due to overweight status, issues related to the driver such as intoxication or immigration documentation problems, or the vehicle not meeting safety standards.

The CBP testified that the DPS facility at the Colombia Import lot adjudicates close to 100% of the traffic that leaves the CBP facility. This is a high variation from the number of DPS inspections at the World Trade Bridge (WTB). At the WTB DPS does not have a permanent inspection facility and conducts intermittent inspections throughout the week. The consequence is that shippers are incented to use the WTB rather than the Colombia checkpoint, increasing the volume at the WTB.The increase in tonnage coming across has led to significant wait times which impede the flow of commerce and reduce the efficiency of operations.

The hours of operation and staffing of the border facilities has also been argued to create additional limitations on the amount of traffic that can move through the crossings. However, CBP has indicated that expanded hours, starting at 7 a.m., have yielded limited success as the shippers choose not to begin movement of merchandize across the border until between 9:00 and 10:00 with the majority of those before that time being empty trailers.

In Pharr the early hours yield about one-hundred trucks per hour which does not increase to two-hundred per hour until after 9:00. The current one-time crossing fee for commercial vehicles is $13.20, which may be paid online or at the port, and the annual user fee is $404. Most carriers purchase the annual permit and many carriers choose to purchase the online one-time crossing pass.

However, there are significant numbers of shippers that choose to pay the one-time fee at the port. This creates additional congestion and diverts personnel which could be used for other tasks. The inspection process at the border crossings has been continually reassessed since the inception of NAFTA.

California and Arizona inspection stations are co-located, allowing for the inspections to occur simultaneously. Texas is the only state which does not share facilities with the CBP. After speaking to industry representatives, researchers and DPS officials the consensus is that the arrangement is inefficient and adds to overall crossing times.

However, in 2014 Captain Jessie Méndez, the head of the Border Truck Safety Inspection Program at the time also noted that those states have also expressed displeasure with the joint structure, and compensation variations between DPS and federal inspectors can cause friction.

TxDOT has developed the Texas Freight Mobility Plan with the most recent iteration in 2017. Within the plan, TxDOT has identified more than two-hundred fifty projects costing $3.56 Billion related to the movement of freight in the districts around the border ports of entry. Of these projects, TxDOT has planned forty-six projects costing $415 Million in the period between 2016-2020.

These projects should lead to increased traffic flow both to and from the border ports of entry and reduce the congestion due to truck traffic in these areas. The infrastructure necessary to alleviate current congestion and prepare for the continuing increased traffic through the ports remains a critical element of improved commerce across the border.

Committee recommendations regarding Border Ports of Entry

According to Morrison’s Interim Report to the 86th Texas Legislature, the following recommendations dealing with Border Ports of Entry were made for review and action by state lawmakers during the ongoing 140-day session, which continues through the end of May 2019, Canales said.

The Ship Channel Improvement Revolving Fund should be funded to provide necessary resources for the deepening and widening of qualified ship channels at Texas Ports.

• The Railroad Commission, the General Land Office and the Port Authority Advisory Committee should work with stakeholders and the appropriate federal agencies to make a recommendation to the legislature regarding the inclusion of underwater infrastructure in the Texas Underground Facility Notification program or a similar program.

• The Department of Public Safety should continue efforts to work collaboratively with U.S. Customs and Border Protection to develop a revised inspection process which allows more efficient overall inspections and reduces wait times at the border and make such recommendations to the legislature by October 2020.

• TxDOT should increase the prioritization of TxDOT funding that would be dedicated to the improved freight corridors proximate to the border ports of entry.

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Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, represents House District 40 in Hidalgo County, which includes portions or all of Edinburg, Elsa, Faysville, La Blanca, Linn, Lópezville, McAllen, Pharr and Weslaco. He may be reached at his House District Office in Edinburg at (956) 383-0860 or at the Capitol at (512) 463-0426. For more on this and other Texas legislative news stories which affect the Rio Grande Valley metropolitan region, please log on to Titans of the Texas Legislature (TitansoftheTexasLegislature.com)

 

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