Desired transportation improvements in the study area were identified based on safety, mixed traffic use, and economic development opportunities. For the study corridor, the main issue was traffic mix that included tractor trailers, RV's, delivery trucks, oil drilling rigs and equipment, oil tankers, and local traffic and its relationship to traffic safety and continued road damage as a result of the heavy trucks. U.S. 83 for the most part does not have sufficient lanes for acceleration or deceleration for the large heavy equipment coming on and off U.S. 83 from local farm access roads (oil drilling and exploration equipment, oil tankers, agricultural machinery, etc.) and businesses, which becomes a safety issue when combined with fast moving trucks. As a result, highway improvements would facilitate highway safety and economic development expansion based on increased transportation efficiencies.
During the course of the study, traffic flows/routes based on traffic type became apparent. U.S. 83 serves as an important transportation route and link between economic development and transportation. Well-defined traffic flows and patterns were identified for:
As a result of U.S. 83 being a more direct route and bypassing the heavy San Antonio traffic, trucks going to or coming from the Laredo Border crossing use U.S. 83 as an option for west coast origins or destinations. Total trip time can be reduced by two hours by taking U.S. 83 north to Carrizo Springs, 277 west to Del Rio, and 90 to I-10. In addition, heavy loaded trucks will detour onto U.S 83 when the scales are open at Moore, on I-35.
The annual average daily traffic (AADT) counts were tallied in five-year intervals from 1980 to 2000 to identify traffic volumes and patterns and provide percentage change and average annual growth rates to demonstrate the traffic impacts of NAFTA on the study region.  The AADT increase from Carrizo Springs west to Eagle Pass on U.S. 277 supports conversations with retailers and truck drivers that the majority of the truck traffic on U.S. 83 is going to or coming from the west coast. The traffic flows in the area have demonstrated solid growth and there is evidence in most cases of accelerated traffic growth on U.S. 83 in the post NAFTA (1995-2000) period. It is expected that this strong growth rate will continue, resulting from increased trade liberalization and the interaction between and the integration of the North American markets.
U.S. 83 and I-35 are one and the same for approximately 20.5 miles from Laredo heading north. This section had a 167% increase in AADT from 5,100 to 13,600 trips between 1980 and 2000. From 1995 to 2000, a 49% growth in AADT occurred. When expressed in terms of average annual change, there was a 5% yearly growth over the 20-year period, and an 8.4% per year growth between 1995 and 2000.
From the U.S. 83 and I-35 juncture, continuing north on I-35 to Encinal at the Webb County line, there was an AADT increase of 232% from 3,700 to 12,300 trips between 1980 and 2000. This is equivalent to a 6.2% average annual growth. From 1995 to 2000, a 45% growth in AADT occurred, which represents an average annual increase of 7.7%.
|Pre NAFTA||95 - 00|
|US 83 & I-35||5%||8.4%|
|US 83/I-35 Juncture North||2.3%||9.1%|
|US 83 Carrizo Springs West||2.7%||5.5%|
Source: Texas Department of Transportation
From the U.S. 83 and I-35 juncture, continuing north on U.S. 83 to Carrizo Springs, there was an AADT increase of 59% from 1,700 to 2,700 trips between 1980 and 2000. This represents a 2.3% average annual growth rate. Between 1995 and 2000, there was a 54% increase, which represents a 9.1% average annual growth.
On 277 heading west to Eagle Pass from U.S. 83 in Carrizo Springs, the 1980 to 2000 period showed an increase in AADT of 71% from 1,750 to 3,000 trips, with a 30% increase from 1995 to 2000. The 20-year average annual change on this segment was 2.7%, while the post 1995 increase was at the rate of 5.5%. This AADT increase from Carrizo Springs to Eagle Pass on U.S. 277 is similar to the 59% increase from the I-35 break away to Carrizo Springs, which supports conversations with retailers and truck drivers that the majority of the truck traffic on U.S. 83 is going to or coming from the west coast.
Planned transportation improvements have included new pavement, additional pullover lanes, four-lanes through the larger towns, curbing and guttering, sidewalks and retention walls with southwest theme design. Cost figures provided by the Laredo District Office of the Texas DOT, showed the Texas DOT having spent approximately $10.9 million dollars on projects on U.S. 83 in Webb, Dimmit and Zavala Counties in FY 2001 and 2002. No funding has been allocated for improvements in FY 2003 and 2004 and $10 million has been earmarked for FY 2005. However, from February 1998 to December 2012, approximately $76.6 million has been spent or earmarked for projects on U.S. 83.
Recommendations from stakeholders advocate the future development of U.S. 83 as a four-lane divided highway from the U.S. 83 and I-35 junction to Uvalde to provide for improved safety due to the user mix on the existing road, adequate entry and exit access for heavy equipment, and for facilitating economic development. The majority of Advisory Committee members and individuals interviewed recommend that U.S. 83 should be four-lane to Uvalde with improved shoulders to connect with rail and I-90 to San Antonio and points west. Such an upgrade, according to a preliminary estimate, (figures provided by TX DOT's Laredo District Office and WSA's Houston Office) would cost approximately $225 million. Other options include additional pullover lanes. Exhibit 1 illustrates a pullover lane just recently added to the U.S. 83 study corridor by the Texas DOT.
"We conducted an informal survey of our RV tenants and they indicated that just by adding more pullover lanes would be an asset to U.S. 83."
-- Barbara Rice, Owner Triple R, Crystal City
Other recommendations are relatively inexpensive. Crystal City would like to see signs on U.S. 83 pointing to downtown Crystal City indicating a business route designation. This would encourage more U.S. 83 drive-bys to go into Crystal City and hopefully stop. Other relatively inexpensive recommendations include Scenic Highway and Texas Wildlife Trail signs and historic markers. More signs and other guides to attractions such as birding trails or natural and tourist attractions would take advantage of the ecotourists.
In the course of developing the transportation improvement concept for the U.S. 83 study corridor, a link has been made between economic development and transportation. However, it must be understood that economic development is also a reflection of unemployment, income levels, education, housing, healthcare and more.
Exhibit 1: Pullover lane on U.S. 83
It is apparent that opportunities exist for developing distribution facilities in Dimmit and Zavala Counties geared towards Mexican trade, and land is much cheaper than near Laredo. By continuing to improve upon and building better roads, there would be a substantial increase in west coast traffic business, due to the two-hour timesavings alone. Distribution centers could take advantage of the bilingual work force and location, providing jobs in receiving, disbursing, assembling and distributing. The focus would have to be on logistics and transportation, with value added in services such as break-bulk and customs facilitation. It may be possible to develop a lower-cost warehouse/value added niche, possibly in combination with a truck service and inspection center, and perhaps even a truck driving school.
A number of business start-ups have occurred since 1995 (post NAFTA) that have contributed greatly to the local economies in the northern portion of the study corridor. Recent new business start-ups were identified, which are not all-inclusive, with a conservative estimate of 160 new jobs.
"The local community was so excited about McDonalds coming to town that the local newspaper would print how many bricks had been laid during the course of the week."
-Bonnie Cervenka, Carrizo Springs Chamber Commerce, Advisory Committee Member
|Potential Economic Impact of Prospects
Potential 230 New Positions
In the study corridor, there are several organizations charged with economic development that include local Chambers of Commerce, Laredo Development Foundation, Middle Rio Grande Development Council, and the Middle Rio Grande FUTURO Communities, Inc. On January 11, 2002, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced the selection of the Middle Rio Grande FUTURO Communities, Inc. to receive the Empowerment Zone (EZ) designation in Round III.  The EZ designation includes portions of Dimmit and Zavala Counties in the study corridor. EZ benefits include specific tax advantages that accrue to existing and potential owners, businesses and developers. The tax advantages for Round III designations include wage credits of up to $3,000 per qualified employee. Round III rural zones can also issue up to $60 million each in new tax exempt bonds that can be used for purposes such as a shell building, financing the construction of a new building or the renovation of an existing building. The Round III Empowerment Zone provides an excellent marketing tool for the communities on the U.S. 83 corridor in combination with its proximity to the border crossing and east and west bound traffic from Eagle Pass and U.S. 83 juncture.
A number of potential job increases are expected to result from the attraction of businesses to the Middle Rio Grande FUTURO Communities Empowerment Zone and the various incentives it offers. Crystal City, Texas is actively trying to draw into the area three establishments, all of which would heavily rely on utilizing the U.S. 83 Corridor in Southern Texas for their shipments. First, a Mexican cheese processor, currently negotiating with the city, is anticipated to open a processing facility in 2003, employing about 200 individuals when fully operational. Second, the abundance of high-quality water in the Carrizo Wilcox Aquifer has attracted interest from Californian and Mexican entrepreneurs to build a water bottling plant around the Aquifer. Such a plant would generate about 20 direct new jobs in the area. Third, there is a potential for the development of a transportation staging facility along U.S. 83 in the area. This facility would handle approximately 400 containers per month, and create 10 new jobs.
U.S. 83, as rural as it may be, has a dynamic role in the development and growth of the small communities along its path. The border trade dynamics of Laredo will continue to increase as a result of NAFTA, which will continue to provide development opportunities along the U.S. 83 corridor. Highway improvements on U.S. 83 will continue to have a positive impact on economic development in supporting its key industries. Local communities are in a good position to take advantage of their Empowerment Zone, its tax advantages and their proximity to U.S. 83 and the border.
Local officials and stakeholders in Webb, Dimmit, and Zavala Counties and the Cities of Laredo, Carrizo Springs and Crystal City, Texas believe with justification based on the current and future economic potential of the region that the U.S. 83 study corridor should eventually be improved to a four-lane highway. The Texas DOT, as demonstrated during the course of the study period, is committed to improving U.S. 83 and recognizes that continued improvements will help the local communities in the corridor and region recognize their potential. However the costs of providing the four-lane highway are too great to be able to implement in the near future, especially during a time of limited resources and competing interests. The Texas DOT will continue to provide additional selective improvements as identified in the transportation improvement plan. This level of improvement should not impede any new economic development activity anticipated by local officials.
Challenges do exist in regard to income levels, education, housing, and healthcare. The local leadership, stakeholders and development agencies in the study corridor recognize these challenges and are leading efforts to address them. They also realize that they are in a unique position to make positive change and to take advantage of their natural resources, cultural diversity, U.S. 83, proximity to Laredo, and NAFTA.
"This is an excellent study, but the question still remains the same... how do we fund these improvements in a time of very limited resources and competing interests?"
-Luis Ramirez, Laredo District Engineer, TXDOT, Advisory Committee Member
 Texas Department of Transportation provided AADT Counts