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U.S. Department of Transportation U.S. Department of Transportation Icon United States Department of Transportation United States Department of Transportation

Public Roads - Sept/Oct 1999

Corbor Improves Safety, Mobility, and Productivity

by Martin Weiss and David Smith

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) recently announced the award of $123.6 million in Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) managed grants in support of 55 major national transportation projects. These projects, shown in figure 1, are the first to be supported with federal funds available through the National Corridor Planning and Development Program (NCPD) and the Coordinated Border Infrastructure Program (CBI).

On the FHWA Web site, the combination of these programs is called "CORBOR." However, the combined programs are also called the Corridors and Borders Program, the Border and Corridor Program, and the 1118/1119 Program. The numbers 1118 and 1119 refer to the sections of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) that authorized these programs.

In general, NCPD provides funds for the planning, design, construction and related activities of projects that develop the 43 corridors identified by Congress in legislation passed in 1991, 1993, 1995, and 1998 (TEA-21) and of projects related to some additional corridors. Some of these corridors are interstate freeways that require limited improvements. Others are undivided two- or four-lane highways that require coordinated upgrading. Others are proposed highways that are in various stages of development.

The CBI program funds projects that improve transportation in the vicinity of our borders with Canada and Mexico.

Figure 1 - Map of fiscal year 1999 NCPD - and CPI-funded projects.

As of August 1999, projects in 35 states are being supported with the grants, and funds for more grants will be available in each of the next four years. Competition for awards will be fierce, considering that 151 proposals requesting $2.2 billion have been sent forward this year.

Information about the programs, including an application for funding and a map of all high-priority corridors identified by Congress, is available on FHWA's Web site ( However, before entering this competition, potential CORBOR grant applicants will be wise to consider some critical aspects of this year's approved projects.

U.S. Route 93 as it crosses over the top of the Hoover Dam is a bottleneck and a major safety hazard in the CANAMEX Corridor. A bypass project is underway. (See "The Hoover Dam Bypass" in the July/August 1999 issue of Public Roads.)

One important characteristic of a number of successful CORBOR proposals in 1999 is multistate coordination. Of the 11 multistate applications in 1999, all 11 received some funding. The highest award for a multistate application was $10 million (of the $44 million requested) for a proposal by nine states from Texas to Michigan for an environmental study for the future I-69.

Several of the multistate applications were completely funded, including a $2 million Oregon-Washington freight-related study of a portion of I-5, a $1.3 million Wyoming-Montana port-of-entry project, a $500,000 Maryland-Pennsylvania-West Virginia corridor study, an eight-state study of the deployment of intelligent transportation systems (ITS) along I-35 and I-29 from Texas to Minnesota, and a $1 million Arizona-Nevada study for a portion of the CANAMEX Corridor, which extends from Mexico to Canada following I-19, I-10, U.S. Route 93 across the Hoover Dam, and I-15.

Another important characteristic of a number of successful proposals is the support from agencies other than the applicant. For example, the future I-69 project had written endorsements from dozens and dozens of grassroots agencies in many states. Another example is the multistate ITS-deployment project, which had strong private-sector support as well as support from government agencies in Canada. The FAST (Freight Action Strategies) Corridor is another project with strong and extensive support, including private-sector financial contributions, for the construction of grade separations and other port-access improvements near the ports of Everett, Seattle and Tacoma, Wash. This project was awarded $10 million of the requested $30 million.

Cars and trucks line up to cross the border from Canada into the United States near Blaine, Wash. The current delays at this crossing cost truckers more than $40 million per year and generate tons of additional air pollution.

Still another important characteristic of a number of successful proposals is that they support both NCPD and CBI. For example, the Ambassador Bridge gateway improvement project in Detroit will improve transportation in the border region, and it is also a terminus of the future I-69. This project was awarded $10.6 million of a requested $55.2 million. Other proposals that support both NCPD and CBI are the development of California Route 905 southeast of San Diego and the widening of a bridge on Texas Farm-to-Market (FM) Route 3464 in Laredo, Texas, connecting I-35 with a border port of entry. These two projects were awarded $7.4 million (of the requested $40 million) and $6.2 million (of the requested $12.4 million), respectively.

Projected CORBOR Benefits

Perhaps the most commonly cited practical benefits of funded CORBOR projects are increased mobility and safety.

An increased ability to support the movement of motor vehicles of all types - and trucks in particular - is a fundamental consideration in these corridor projects. Measures of increased mobility can be projected in terms of an increased number of vehicles per hour able to travel a certain distance, but there are a variety of other ways to measure mobility. For example, in the state of Washington, an increase in the capacity of Interstate 5 near the Canadian border would, according to information contained in applications, mean reducing Canadian border-crossing delays for trucks by at least 50 percent.

Increased safety - resulting from such things as highway/rail grade separations, an increased capacity for motor carrier safety inspections, and the diversion of traffic from undivided two-lane highways to freeways - is also prominent in many of the selected CORBOR projects. Other selected CORBOR projects will improve safety by using safety-related technology, providing safe access ramps, or improving highway intersections and interchanges. U.S. Transportation Secretary Rodney E. Slater has declared that safety is the " North Star" guiding all activities of DOT.

The widening of a bridge on Texas Farm-to-Market (FM) Route 3464 in Laredo, Texas, connecting I-35 with a border port of entry, will allow freight to move more quickly between the United States and Mexico.

Other benefits of a number of selected CORBOR projects include productivity and economic development. These benefits result from, for example, an increase in freight transport capabilities, which in turn create new economically feasible opportunities for more intermodal movement of goods. Another mechanism for achieving these benefits would be an increased access for recreational traffic to improve local or regional economies. In addition, opportunities for health care and education can be improved by making it easier and/or quicker for users to travel to providers as a result of increasing capacity. Of course, an obvious benefit of projects near our national borders is an increased capacity for international trade in accordance with the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), thereby initiating the spin-off of many other benefits.

Last, but not least, are the environmental consequences of the projects. In some ways, benefits in productivity have a direct bearing on the environment. For example, in the commercial transportation industry, one of the most significant benefits resulting from CORBOR awards is the more efficient use of facilities, equipment, and vehicles. Increased productivity means less "down time" and delay and less fuel waste and pollution caused by vehicles idling. The current Canadian border-crossing delay on I-5 is estimated to cost truckers more than $40 million per year and generate tons of additional air pollution. In addition, the environmental studies funded in some of the projects will help agencies and contractors to avoid environmentally sensitive areas and to minimize or mitigate impacts.

Use of New Technology

Significant benefits are expected to emerge from applications that rely on new technology.

The Intelligent Transportation Society of America (ITS America) contacted many of the sponsors of selected CORBOR projects. Then they published an article on their Web page ( that discusses in detail the intelligent transportation system elements and benefits included in the CORBOR projects. The article notes that 11 of the 55 projects have identifiable ITS elements and at least two more projects are planning to incorporate ITS elements. These elements include changeable message signs, Web-based traveler information services, automatic equipment identification, electronic data interchange for commercial vehicle manifests, electronic toll collection, and transponder-based vehicle pre-clearance.

The cited CORBOR projects will be researching these technology applications as the work evolves, and research is an important part of the CORBOR effort.

Currently, many electronic technologies are used successfully in the transportation industry. Among these technologies are transponders, Internet communications for scheduling drivers and cargo, and information systems for expediting intermodal operations. If these technologies can be economically and reliably used in the CORBOR projects, then it should be easier to achieve other projected benefits, such as increased capacity, better use of equipment and facilities, optimizing interconnecting multimodal situations, economic savings, social benefits, and safety. It will be both interesting and highly informative for the surface transportation community to follow the progress of ITS implementation as these projects move forward to determine the actual benefits achieved by these projects.

Some Keys to CORBOR

One can easily see that the 55 funded projects for 1999 have a wide geographic distribution. What is not so apparent, however, is that the awards were generally granted to projects that had a high priority assigned to them by states submitting multiple proposals.

Jack Foster of the Texas DOT explained why FM 3464, which supports the I-29/35 Corridor and U.S.-Mexico border crossing at Laredo (the southern terminus of Interstate 35) was the No. 1 priority among Texas' 1999 CORBOR proposals. There were three primary reasons: (1) The need for the work was well-documented. (2) Texas DOT and the city of Laredo were leveraging funding. (3) The project was planned and coordinated with local, state, federal, and Mexican government officials. The funded project will allow freight to move more quickly between the United States and Mexico, producing local benefits as well as benefits for Texas and the United States.

Gordon Rogers of the Whatcom Council of Governments in the state of Washington is grateful for the funding support for the International Mobility and Trade Corridor (IMTC) project, one of the projects most highly rated by Washington state.

"A unique forum of state and federal agencies; Canadian provincial agencies; [and] regional cities, businesses, and trade associations [has been meeting regularly in a] coordinated way to cooperatively identify major needs and then jointly promote solutions," said Rogers.

Both of these successful projects involve financial investments by others in addition to the federal government, and that is a tangible indication of priority. Also, both address both local transportation and related social needs. The success of these projects requires continued cooperative efforts during project implementation.

The examples above show some of the characteristics that resulted in selection in 1999. Prospective applicants for 2000 should objectively analyze their projects and should consider whether to incorporate improved coordination, cooperation, or any of the other characteristics discussed. This analysis may be crucial if the applications in 2000 are even nearly as numerous and costly as the applications in 1999.

Martin Weiss is the principal program official in the Federal Highway Administration for the development of CORBOR rulemaking, the organization and content of the Web site, the organization of the application review process, and the organization and presentation of project-selection information to management officials. He has served in the field and at FHWA headquarters in areas of project management, research, environment, and design and planning. Since 1995, he has managed a variety of multistate studies and produced reports for Congress and reports for the secretary of transportation on these studies, economic development, and the National Highway System.

David Smith is a frequent writer and commentator on transportation policy, issues, and technologies. A graduate of Cambridge University in England, he is the principal of AMANUENSIS Creative Group, a professional writing and consulting group located in Vienna, Va.