TTI Provides Guidelines for Ports Seeking TRZ Financing
IN 2007, THE TEXAS LEGISLATURE ENABLED A NEW FINANCING MECHANISM, the transportation reinvestment zone (TRZ), to encourage local infrastructure development. TRZs have proven very successful over the last decade for highway development.
TRZs designate an impact area around a needed improvement project. A municipality or county can use some or all of the property and sales tax increment revenue projected to accrue from the improvement to fund the project. While the original legislation applied to most transportation projects, port projects weren’t included — until now.
“The funding tools available to Texas ports have traditionally been focused on improvements within the ports themselves,” explains Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI) Senior Research Scientist Rafael Aldrete, who heads TTI’s Center for International Intelligent Transportation Research. “The legislation in 2013 recognized the positive impact expanding ports can have on the broader local landscape.”
Once the legal framework was in place, port authorities and the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) saw the need for guidelines ports could use to set a TRZ. Under TxDOT’s direction, TTI developed webinar materials, case studies and evaluation tools, which are now available for any port to use.
“The quality of the roads — both within and outside the port — can impact a port’s effectiveness, and that in turn impacts the local economy,” says Aldrete. As ports expand by, say, increasing warehouse capacity, they naturally employ more local residents to work in those warehouses. And the residents need places to live (helping create a healthy real estate market) and buy goods (improving the local gross domestic product). In short, a healthy port makes for a healthy community.
Deog Bae, a Texas A&M University Ph.D. student in civil engineering, played a key role in Aldrete’s research team. Bae helped generate a methodology that yields a reasonable expectation for what a port project can produce in expected tax increment revenues over the life of the TRZ; and that, in turn, helps a port authority scope the local TRZ.
“We used the ports in Beaumont and Brownsville to refine our model,” explains Bae, “and now it’s applicable to any port, anywhere, seeking funding through a TRZ.”
Texas has often led the nation in advancing transportation, and it was the first state to implement TRZs. Now, once again, TxDOT is setting the standard for ports nationwide to take advantage of this innovative financing tool.
TTI Provides More Reliable Cross-Border Travel Time Estimates
FOR SHIPPERS, KNOWING HOW LONG IT TAKES TO MOVE FREIGHT IS IMPORTANT TO THEIR BOTTOM LINE. But until now, accurately predicting the time it takes to cross the border hasn’t been possible.
Though careful vetting of shipments crossing the border is necessary to maintain security, unreliable border wait times can cause major slowdowns for freight traveling from Mexico to the United States. In 2008, the Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI) demonstrated a system to the Federal Highway Administration that accurately, reliably leveraged technology to collect border wait time data.
Over the course of several research projects, TTI researchers created a solution that uses radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology, currently present in most trucks, to measure border wait times. Deployed at seven commercial ports of entry across Texas, this system provides anyone interested — and especially U.S. Customs and Border Protection — with reliable estimates via the website TTI created.
Before the website was available, shippers relied on the free travel-time estimates provided by Google to predict cross-border travel times, but the time spent at the crossing was not included in Google’s estimate. TTI’s approach uses the border wait times from the website combined with travel times from Google to provide a better travel-time prediction.
“We’re supplying that missing piece of the puzzle,” says TTI Software Developer Swapnil Samant. “With the machine-learning algorithm we developed, we can predict accurate travel times from origin to destination and post them to the website for a given 24-hour period. And we refine the estimate every half hour.”
By updating the estimate 48 times a day, TTI can provide shippers with an accurate travel-time estimate for commercial vehicles passing through border checkpoints. And it wouldn’t have been possible, Samant says, without the expertise of Jose Rivera Montes De Oca, a Texas A&M University graduate student studying math.
Beginning with data generated in 2013, the algorithm takes reams of historical data and predicts the expected wait time at the border for a given day and time. That means more efficient cross-border supply chains, and that can mean a better bottom line for U.S. manufacturers and, potentially, savings for consumers.
“Sometimes the field of mathematics is so theoretical, you can’t really explain what you do to other people,” says Rivera Montes De Oca. “But I can point to the website and show them how my work makes a difference. My time at TTI has been amazing. If I could work here the rest of my life, I would.”