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Ports-to-Plains Alliance


U.S. must recommit to federal highway program

Commentary by Henry Cisneros  Suzanne Shank

September 27, 2016

We are seeing more and more states taking proactive steps to address transportation funding challenges. In 2015 and 2016, more than a dozen states including Texas are raising additional revenue for transportation.

Sixty years ago, the United States embarked on one of the most ambitious and successful undertakings in the history of the federal government. In June 1956, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the Federal Highway Act, which created what we have come to know as the Interstate Highway System. A vast network made up of some 47,000 miles of roads, the system has transformed our nation economically, culturally and geographically.

The system, which took decades to build, fundamentally altered where and how Americans live. Suburbs were born, new industries were created and the shipment of goods by truck over long distances radically changed almost every sector of the economy. In 1960, with the system in its infancy, Americans drove approximately 7.19 trillion highway miles per year, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation; in 2014, that number had risen to 30.25 trillion.

It was not just the potential economic boost that convinced Eisenhower to champion the federal highway program. As a former general who had led U.S. forces in Europe during World War II, President Eisenhower believed a highway system was essential for our national defense. With the threat of the Cold War, Eisenhower argued the military needed to be able to move equipment quickly over long distances and civilians might need to evacuate large areas on short notice.  Read on…


Debate Preview: What to Expect from Clinton and Trump on Infrastructure

U.S. Chamber of Commerce

September 22, 2016

We’re a few days away from the first of four scheduled debates in the presidential race, and while we know a lot from the candidates’ plans in several key policy issues— including trade, immigration and financial regulation—we hope that this first debate sheds more light on exactly what each candidate would do to advance another important area of concern: America’s infrastructure.

Our country’s infrastructure policy and funding mechanisms affect every American, every business and every community. Study after study has shown that investing in infrastructure leads to better safety, faster economic growth and higher quality of life. However, a recent analysis by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) tells a sad story, saddling America’s infrastructure with D+ grade—which is actually an improvement from a grade of D in the previous report. The report estimates that the U.S. would need to invest $3.6 trillion to bring our nation’s infrastructure to a state of good repair by 2020.

The good news is that the two leading presidential candidates seem to agree with each other (and with America’s business community) about the importance of investing in infrastructure. Problem is, we haven’t heard much about their plans to actually pay for these critical investments.

With that in mind, here’s what we have heard from the two candidates on infrastructure policy– and what the American business community will be hoping to hear during the first debate on Monday.   Read on…


Montana Governor: Shoring up state's infrastructure job one for 2017 Legislature

Billings Gazette

September 21, 2016

Montana Governor Steve BullockLike many others attending the 107th Montana Association of Counties conference in Billings on Wednesday, Gov. Steve Bullock helped himself to some of the freebies offered to attendees.

Before addressing county commissioners from around the state, Bullock held aloft a four-way screwdriver provided to attendees by Stahly Engineering & Associates, which has offices in Bozeman and Helena.

Bullock said Montana’s county commissioners are more fortunate than the nation’s 50 governors.

“We never get these at the National Governors Association,” he said.

Bullock told commissioners, who are meeting at the Billings Hotel & Convention Center, that the state’s infrastructure “needs our immediate attention.”

After falling short by one vote during the 2015 session and vetoing a Republican infrastructure bill in 2013, Bullock has proposed a 2017 bill calling for $200 million in cash and bonds to be spent on infrastructure needs across the state.   Read on…


The next president should make infrastructure spending a priority

Washington Post

September 11, 2016

There is now a consensus that the United States should substantially raise its level of infrastructure investment. Economists and politicians of all persuasions are increasingly concluding that higher infrastructure investment can create quality jobs and provide economic stimulus without posing the risks of easy-money monetary policies in the short run. They are also recognizing that infrastructure investment can expand the economy’s capacity in the medium term and mitigate the enormous maintenance burden we would otherwise pass on to the next generation.

The case for infrastructure investment has been strong for a long time, but it gets stronger with each passing year, as government borrowing costs decline and ongoing neglect raises the return on incremental spending increases. As it becomes clearer that growth is not going to return to pre-financial-crisis levels on its own, the urgency of policy action rises. Just as the infrastructure failure at Chernobyl was a sign of malaise in the Soviet Union’s last years, profound questions about America’s future are raised by collapsing bridges, children losing IQ points because of lead in water, an air-traffic control system that does not use GPS technology and chipping paint in thousands of schools.

The issue now is not whether the United States should invest more in infrastructure but what the policy framework should be. Here are the important questions and my answers.   Read on…


Nebraska Announces Funding for Expansion of the Heartland Expressway

The Nebraska Department of Roads (NDOR) and Governor Ricketts announced today $300 million in transportation construction investments, including U.S. 26 from Minatare to U.S. 385, as a 4-lane divided highway, as well as the design of 12 projects, including U.S. 385 from Alliance to Chadron, as a Super 2, and planning of two others. Funded through the Build Nebraska Act (BNA) and the Transportation Innovation Act (TIA), championed by the Governor, these projects will improve safety on our highways, promote economic growth throughout the state –and fulfill the vision of former Governor Kay Orr in 1988 to expand Nebraska’s Expressway System. NDOR has committed construction on all projects will begin by 2024.

Construction of U.S. 26 from Minatare to U.S. 385, as a 4-lane divided highway, has an estimated project cost of $60M.  This construction project was selected because:

  • Completes a Gap in the System: Currently, there is an 18-mile stretch of two-lane highway between two sections of US 26 that are already four-lane highway or are planned to be upgraded to four-lane highway.
  • Regional and Local Support: This project is part of what is commonly known as the Heartland Expressway Corridor – a project that stakeholders have long stressed the importance of completing.
  • Federally Designated High Priority Corridor: The Heartland Expressway Corridor serves as the middle section of the Great Plains International Trade Corridor, which extends from Mexico to Canada. Given its significance for trade and freight transport, it’s one of four federally designated High Priority Corridors that comprise the Ports-to-Plains Alliance.

Design of U.S. 385 from Alliance to Chadron, as a Super 2 for 59 miles. This design project was selected because:

  • Regional and Local Support: NDOR will begin design work for a Super 2 on this 59-mile stretch. A Super 2 is a two-lane roadway with paved shoulders and additional passing lanes. Passing lanes will improve safety where truck traffic exists and is growing.
  • Federally Designated High Priority Corridor

The Heartland Expressway Association is extremely happy to learn that our priorities for the next phases of the 4-lane highway mirror those of the NE  Department of Roads. Having the Minatare to U.S. Hwy 385 section listed as  construction project by 2024 assures the completion of the remaining 18 miles needed to complete the 4-lane portion from Kimball to Alliance. We are also pleased that the 59 miles from Alliance to Chadron will be added to the design list as at least a Super 2 configuration, which assures that it will be in line for funding at some point in the future. Our experience in working with the NDOR on this new prioritization process allowed us to have a direct input into that selection. We look forward to continuing that work.

HEA would like to thank not only the NDOR Director Schneweis, but also Governor Ricketts, U.S. Senator Deb Fischer and members of the NE Legislature including Senator Al Davis of the 43rd District, Senator John Stinner of the 48th district and Senator Ken Schilz of the 47th District for their long-time support of this project.

Project Announcement Handout

New BNA/TIA Projects Map & List

Fact Sheet: US 26 from Minatare to US 385

Fact Sheet: US 385 from Alliance to Chadron


What's Wrong With The Eagle Ford Shale?


September 6, 2016

“What’s wrong with the Eagle Ford?” a friend asked me a couple of weeks back.  This was shortly after I’d posted a piece chronicling the somewhat amazing boom in new investments (more than $6 billion during August alone) and rising rig count (over 200 as of last Friday, 50% of the national total for oil rigs) in the Permian Basin over the last couple of months.

My buddy, who resides in South Texas, was confused as to why West Texas was benefitting so richly while the economic engine of his part of the world has remained mired with a rig count in the 25-30 range.  Of course, the first correct answer to his question is that there is nothing “wrong” with the Eagle Ford Shale.  It has been and remains a world-class oil and gas play, a formation that has the potential to ultimately become the single most-prolific oil formation ever discovered in the Lower-48 states.

Having said that, it’s still a good question, and one worth more fully exploring.

The first and most obvious reason for this disparity is well economics.  The Permian benefits from the existence of multiple potential pay zones, i.e., different horizontal underground formations capable of producing oil and/or natural gas in paying quantities.  In many locations more than one, and often several such pay zones lie beneath a single drill site.  Obviously, the ability to produce oil and gas in paying quantities from multiple formations by drilling a single hole will have the effect of lowering the well’s overall costs per unit of production.

The Eagle Ford shale is itself a gigantic oil and gas-containing formation, but throughout the 20+ county region in which it has thus far produced, it is typically the only source of production in any given well.  Because of this disparity, the average expected break-even oil price throughout much of the Permian tends to be significantly lower than what we see in the Eagle Ford region.  As an example, Pioneer Resources CEO Scott Sheffield told an interviewer just last Friday that producers can break even in many parts of the Permian Basin at $30/bbl and even lower.  A more common per-barrel number one sees these days for the Eagle Ford region is around $50.   Read on…


San Angelo, Texas: Ports-to-Plains Conference opens Sept. 13

San Angelo Standard-Times

August 31, 2016

 There is nothing better than an oil bust to highlight the importance of having a diversified economy in the Concho Valley.

One component integral to the success of our local economy is the infrastructure that exists to carry goods across the country, a topic that will be explored in depth during the Ports-to Plains Alliances' annual conference in September.

San Angelo City Council member Charlotte Farmer is an active member of the group and says the coalition is responsible for vigorously advocating in Austin, Washington, D.C. and internationally.

"I was in banking here for many years, and I have always preached about how lucky San Angelo is to have a diverse economy," she said. "When one thing goes sour for a while, it's these other industries that help support our area — roads, bridges and railways are a huge part of that."

Farmer said it's not enough for the road to exist; highways must be in good, passable condition to facilitate commerce, and she noted many highways were in pretty rough shape after the oil boom tapered off.   Read on…


FHWA releases Rural Freight Corridor Guideline

The Federal Highway Administration released guidelines this week for state departments of transportation to designate and certify Critical Rural Freight Corridors as part of a larger freight program that was included in the federal transportation authorization bill that was signed into law in December. 

The Ports-to-Plains Alliance has pressed hard for the FHWA to issue the guidelines. Without the guidance from FHWA, corridors like those serving primarily rural areas of the Ports-to-Plains region would not be eligible for or have a lower priority for key planning programs and funding programs within the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act.

By providing the guidance, FHWA paved the way for state departments of transportation to designate portions of the Ports-to-Plains, Heartland Expressway and Theodore Roosevelt Expressway as Critical Rural Freight Corridors.  The Alliance will be working with the planning efforts of state departments of transportation to urge designation and certification of key corridor sections across the region. States can designate up to the greater of 150 miles or 20% of the Primary Highway Freight System roads as Critical Rural Freight Corridors.

Segments that are designated and certified by the state departments of transportation become eligible for freight funding sources including the National Highway Freight Program which provides formula funds for each state to improve freight movement.  It can also improve the chances of competing for FASTLANE discretionary grants under the Nationally Significant Freight and Highway Projects program.

From a planning viewpoint, designated and certified Critical Rural Freight Corridors are added to the National Highway Freight Network and are eligible for inclusion in the National Multimodal Freight Network.  The National Multimodal Freight Network will be finalized by December 4, 2016 which makes immediate action to designate and certify important.

 “This was a top priority for the Ports-to-Plains Alliance,” said Ports-to-Plains Alliance President Michael Reeves.  “Our staff and board members met with FHWA staff as well as our congressional delegation and their staffs to let them know how critical this program is to rural economic competitiveness.”

 “We realize that the entire Ports-to-Plains Corridor will not be designated on the Critical Rural Freight Corridor Network, but we know that we have several segments that will be competitive.  The key for us was to have the FHWA Guidelines so that the state DOT’s can make those designations and we can compete,” said Reeves.

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