An Introduction to Highway Infrastructure in Texas

dallas, Texas Highways

 

Texas is unique in a number of ways. It is one of only two states that was ever its own country, Hawaii being the other one. It is unusual for having its own power grid. And the state of Texas has a number of quirks when it comes to its highway infrastructure, many of which are literally by design.

Unusually High Overpasses

Many highway interchanges rely on overpasses to allow one road to literally pass over another. However, one of the quirks of Dallas highway engineering is how tall these overpasses may be relative to others, both elsewhere in the state and around the country. The highest point on the I-635 / US I-75 interchange is 117 feet off the ground. The other bridges in the 635-75 interchange in Dallas are also very high. That explains why the entire I-635 / US I-75 interchange is nicknamed “The High Five”. Fort Worth has its own variation of this in the I-35 West / I-30 “Mixmaster”. The highest overpass in that interchange is 110 feet tall. We can say that Dallas highway engineering results in some of the highest cloverleaf loops in the country.

Yet tall overpasses are not limited to Dallas-Fort Worth. There are highway overpasses in Houston that approach 100 feet in height, such as the one connecting I-45 and Texas Highway 130. This is partially due to the Texas-style stack, where there are four and five overpasses and underpasses in the same highway interchange. Houston is notable for the sheer number of these interchanges, leading to the city getting the nickname “Stack City”.

These multi-level overpasses and underpasses are installed to minimize the number of roadway conflicts. This is a necessity, because Texas unlike nearly every other interstate highway system in the country, has frontage roads. These frontage roads, also known as service roads or feeder roads, allow people to travel parallel to the highway without getting on it. One point in favor of this is that businesses can line up along the highway and profit from a steady stream of visitors instead of having to exit the highway and take a mile of side streets to reach restaurants and hotels. This increases the economic benefit that comes from interstate and intrastate travel. One side benefit is that people experiencing car problems can get off the highway and stop almost anywhere. Another point in their favor is that people can exit early from the highway and continue slowly on the frontage road, looking for the side street they want. There are fewer people in the left lane cutting across traffic because they realize they’re about to pass their exit.

On the flipside, the existence of frontage roads adds a fifth level to the interchanges, because the access roads need to join with and cross over the two major highways connected via the interchange. The sheer height of these interchanges is due to the rules that say every level of the interchange must have at least 25 feet of clearance. This is how Texas having frontage roads affects Dallas highway engineering.

Dallas Frontage Roads

The Regular Use of Frontage Roads

Every highway has two or more lanes, and they’re generally required to have shoulders. Texas is unusual for having frontage roads along nearly every major highway and many mid-sized ones. Frontage roads were the brainchild of Dewitt Greer. He was the Texas chief highway engineer from 1940 to 1968. He initially considered frontage roads to be a great way to reduce right-of-way acquisition costs. Buy the land for the highway and an additional 20 feet or more on each side for frontage roads. This allowed the state to buy up wide swaths of land for the interstates. More importantly, there was ample room on each side of the highway if the highway needed to be widened.

This made it easy to expand I-635 in Dallas from 6 lanes to 8 or 10, if you want to include the HOV lanes. There was no need to fight to buy up houses backing up to the highway in order to widen it. In the worst case scenario, the Texas Department of Transportation sacrificed the frontage road to widen the highway. In most cases, the frontage road went from two lanes to just one. Dallas highway engineering projects often resulted in frontage roads shut down one way or the other while I-30 or Loop 635 were widened or renovated.

Another benefit of having frontage roads is that it gives everyone from first-responders to tow trucks to construction vehicles greater access to the highway. An ambulance can take the frontage road if the highway is blocked. A point in favor of frontage roads is that people can get off a highway blocked by an accident and get on the frontage road. Blocking emergency vehicles is a felony in Texas and you would have to hire a criminal attorney Dallas TX.  So frontage roads reduce criminal negligence. They might have to drive over dirt and grass to get there, but this does end up alleviating massive traffic jams. Frontage roads also separate local traffic from through-traffic. When people don’t need to get on the highway to travel a few miles, this tends to reduce congestion and speed up traffic on the highways.

What are the downsides of frontage roads? They increase the initial construction costs. They provide ample space for highway signage, and some consider this an eye-sore. In a surprising number of cases, the frontage roads contributed to worsening traffic instead of relieving it. The fact that you could easily take advantage of commuter traffic led to stores building right along the frontage road. This leads to more people getting on and off the frontage road, whether they’re going to the grocery store, hitting a restaurant or pulling into a mall. This often results in traffic jams on the frontage road that indirectly leads to a pile up on the highway, since people on the highway need to get onto or across the frontage road to get where they’re going.

That’s why there was a proposal in 2001 to limit construction of new frontage roads. Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk rejected that proposal, stating that frontage roads were essential to the economy of impoverished south Dallas neighborhoods. The Texas Transportation Commission relented to Mayor Kirk’s pleas, and new frontage road construction was authorized. It has continued ever since. And that is how Dallas highway engineering affects road engineering across the entire state.

Another issue with frontage roads is that it increases the width and risk that crossing them poses to pedestrians. And very few Texas cities have built pedestrian bridges over highways. There might be a gap of miles between crossing bridges. That results in highways literally cutting off parts of the community from those on the other side if the highway. For example, Dallas highway engineering significantly impacts sections of the city south of I-20, hence the calls to maintain frontage roads.

Some people are concerned that frontage roads contribute to urban sprawl. It makes the land next to the highway valuable, and it drives development of the land along the highway even when it is several miles from downtown. Once there are restaurants and hotels, general retail and commercial construction follows. The impact is so great that population density along Texas highways is several times that of the rest of the state. And rural communities along highways like I-35 are growing while other rural communities are depopulating.

Ironically, the very existence of frontage roads from the Mexican to the Oklahoman border was that Texas could propose the Trans-Texas Corridor. This project was nicknamed the NAFTA Superhighway. This could only happen because Texas had enough land to seriously consider building a second toll-road highway parallel to I-35. It would have been called TTC-35. It would probably look like the Katy Freeway. That name refers to a section of Interstate 10 west of Houston. It is up to 26 lanes wide if you include the frontage roads. This is where Houston exceeds otherwise impressive Dallas highway engineering.

The I-35 Split in Dallas

The I-35 Split

Interstate 35 is a true international highway. It stretches from the Mexican border to the Canadian border. Furthermore, it is a wide highway the entire way. Cities competed for the interstate highway the way they used to compete for a rail-line to pass through. And they did so for the exact same reason – accessibility and the associated economic benefits.

When the interstate system was being planned, the question arose: Does it pass through Dallas or Fort Worth? The answer was: both. Interstate Highway 35 splits into I-35 East and I-35 West in Hillsboro, Texas. Each highway segment runs north for nearly 100 miles. They merge again in Denton, Texas, more than thirty miles north of Dallas. We can consider it a hallmark of Dallas highway engineering, since the interchange is only an hour drive north of Dallas.

Note that this is very different from Interstate 20 and Interstate 30 merging west of Fort Worth near Weatherford, Texas. In that case, two interstate highways merge into a single highway, I-20. The I-35 split is also significantly different from the rather common practice of having a “business highway-number” road branch off from the highway, though it may merge back into the highway at another point. The practice of having a “business highway-number” road can be seen as the way to give people on the highway access to the amenities in a given town. Texas mostly eliminated the need for this solution with its extensive frontage road system, though you can find “business 121” or “business 114” in addition to state highways with those same names.

dallas toll roads

The Sheer Number of Toll Roads

Texas has more toll roads than any other state. Toll roads have been used to fund road construction that otherwise wouldn’t happen due to the state’s low tax rate. Toll road construction and operation are generally overseen by regional mobility authorities or RMA. For example, the State Highway 121 and State Highway 114 express lanes are managed by the North Texas Tollway Authority. These express lanes add one to two new lanes on existing highways. People pay for the privilege to travel on them instead of the more congested state highways. The NTTA manages a number of toll roads in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, notably the Dallas North Tollway and President George Bush Turnpike that passes through the northern Dallas suburbs. This makes toll roads a hallmark of Dallas highway engineering.

There are privately managed toll roads in Texas, as well. For example, Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport operates its main access road, International Parkway, as a toll road. Sections of State Highway 130 are a privately managed toll road, too.

Texas likes to fund new infrastructure through toll roads, since the cost of building and maintaining the road is paid only by those who use it. This is why there are numerous toll bridges across Texas. For example, you can find toll bridges across Lewisville Lake and Mountain Creek Lake. You can even take a toll tunnel to Addison Airport. That bridge extends Keller Springs Road under the airport. Note that Addison is a suburb of Dallas, making the toll tunnel a unique feature of Dallas highway engineering.

Roads as Boundary Markers

Texas is already strange for allowing smaller cities to reject annexation by a larger city if they share a boundary with a third city. This is why there are literally cities within cities in Texas. For example, Highland Park and University Park were once north Dallas suburbs. As the city of Dallas stretched north, these two cities decided to reject annexation by Dallas and could refuse to be annexed because they touched each other. The same phenomenon is seen inside of Arlington, a Fort Worth suburb. Pantego and Dalworthington Gardens share a border, so they were able to refuse annexation by Arlington.

All of this remains true after Texas revised its annexation laws in 2019. That rule change dealt with the tendency of cities to annex Dallas highways and freeways. They often did this in order to be able to make money off traffic tickets given to people traveling on the highway. In other cases, they annexed just a few hundred feet past the edge of the highway, so that they could claim the property and sales taxes on property along the frontage roads. Yet they rarely went more than a few hundred feet past the highway, leaving entire suburban subdivisions unincorporated.

The revised rules state that the city cannot annex property without permission of the property owner, and they can’t annex property along the highway unless it actually borders the city limits. This prevents cities from counting 6 lanes of a highway as part of the city and then annexing the mall ten miles north of town. And if the city border ends at the highway, properties on the other side of the highway cannot be annexed unless the city annexes the roadway, as well. A city cannot annex a road or right-of-way unless the governing body controlling the road allows it. For example, a city couldn’t annex a toll road and the buildings on the other side of it without permission from an organization like the NTTA. For county roads, that permission has to come from the county commissioners.

Summary

As the second largest state, it isn’t surprising that Texas has the largest number and mileage of roads. However, the state has a number of unusual rules and precedents that literally shape its highway infrastructure and affect its political landscape.

 

Why Fire Protection Engineering is Important for a Farm

barn on fire

Overview

The discovery of fire is perhaps one of the most important discoveries made by man. The early man could cook food, and could keep himself warm. Today, fires have supported many businesses and many economic activities. However, man did not envision that the same fire that is helping him could destroy him. Today, American farmers go through painful experiences in the aftermath of a fire.

Whereas fires have an adverse effect on almost every state, the following are the states which are most vulnerable to fires:

California

Texas

Colorado

Arizona

Idaho

This paper explores the problem of fires in an American farm. It offers the solutions thereof, and justifies why fire protection engineering is important for the farm.

 

Impact of Fires in American Farms

 

Fires in the US have destroyed the stock that is owned by farmers. For example, in July 2020, a chicken farmer in New Jersey who owns Red Bird Egg Farm cried foul over the destruction of 300,000 chickens. Because the fire erupted at night, it was very difficult for the farmer to seek timely help. The chief at the Manning Fire Department admitted that it was not easy to bring the water into the farm due to logistical problems.

Fires in farms are a big risk to the agricultural workers. Agricultural works play an important role in extending farming advice to the farmers. The good thing is that some of these professionals are provided by the state. However, when such workers visit your farm, you need to ensure that they are protected.

The most important resource that sustains agriculture is soil. Unfortunately, in the modern American society, meeting immediate needs has taken precedence over meeting the long-term needs. Burning on long slopes or steep slopes leads to soil erosion. Repeated fires on rocky areas leads to drastic degradation of soil. Some types of soil face a higher level of degradation than others. Sandy soils can be eroded in an easier and faster way. Similarly, a water run off on clay soil leads to gullies. When fires occur, chemicals can be used to eliminate the fire. In such a case, the quality of air is affected.

The impact of fires on a farm can lead to cases of stress, as well as other mental health issues. Most of such cases occur in the case of a serious injury, or in the case of death. Such mental effects can last in the mind for a long time making it hard to erase such bitter memories.

There are farmers who practice farming in order to sell the trees, or as a part of landscaping. Fires could affect the growth of trees. If there are repeated fires in a certain community, the number of trees in the community is going to reduce, and so is the quality of the environment.

farm fire for family

Why Fire Protection Engineering is important for a farm

 

The fire protection engineer has the necessary tools and resources which will help in safeguarding your farm against any possible fire. He will roll out an efficient, practical, and cost-effective guide on the best ways of managing fire at the farm. Now that the fire protection engineer you have chosen is an experienced one, he or she is going to use past case studies in order to assist you in the best way possible.

If your employees know that fire could break out in your farm, they are not going to feel safe when working with you. In addition to that, they do not want to deal with the legal problems that can come in the case that fire breaks out in the farm. Investing in your fire protection engineering is going to assure the employees that they are working in a safe place. They will also feel that in case a fire breaks out, they are not going to be held responsible.

Fire protection engineering could be a matter of law. Legislation regarding fire safety applies to the farms where people work. As a matter of fact, legislation on fire safety does not apply to the farm only, but extends to the farm houses as well. A fire risk assessment is required by law if one has employed more than five people. It is your responsibility to obey the legislation regarding fire. Failure to do so could lead to persecution, prison sentence, or loss of business.

Remember, as a farmer, you are offering critical products and services. In fact, you are dealing with the health of the people. Authorities must ensure that your work is legally conscious and that you are following all the prescribed laws. Failure to do this will lead to harsh consequences and a conflict with the authorities.

A fire protection engineer is going to help you in the process of fire risk assessment. This process starts with identification of hazards. Such hazards include sources of ignition, sources of fuel, and dangerous substances. Second, fire risk assessment is going to protect the people who are at risk. These include people who are living in farm buildings and groups of people who are vulnerable to fire. In such a case, it is your responsibility to have an early advance system in order to ensure optimal fire protection outcomes.

The step of evaluate is very important in fire risk management. There is a need for evaluation that fire would start. There is also need for evaluation that in order to reduce or eliminate fire hazards. One should aim at protecting the people from fire. These include showing the escape routes. In addition to that, a farmer should ensure that a comprehensive warning system is put in place in order to give the necessary help when time comes.

Fire risk assessment cannot be done by one individual; there is a need for comprehensive collaboration with others who are competent as far as the issue of fires is concerned. The good news is that the community is full of people who are responsible, and they can help you in the anticipation of risk. In addition to that, the state and local authorities have professionals who can join your team and give insight.

Working with a fire protection engineer is going to help you to prepare for the possibility of arson. It has been reported that 40 % of all the fires in the US are deliberately started. It has also been reported that 40 % of the businesses that are affected by fire do not get back to their feet again. These are situations that you need to be aware of and avoid them early enough.

Unfortunately, it is very difficult to prevent fire in your farm. This is because some of the causative factors are beyond your country. However, there are various recommendations in fire engineering that could be of great help to you, and these include the following:

 

-Remove hay and straw from the farm from the field. When you are storing it, it should be separated from livestock houses.

-If someone is to start arson in your farm, he has to have enough fuel. Protect your petrol and diesel and make sure that it is inaccessible to unauthorized party.

-Safely store the pesticides as well as fertilizers

-Make sure that you carry out the electrical checks

-Buy fire equipment well in advance and ensure that it is in good working condition

-Do not agree to camp fires and open fires in your farm as this will be a catalyst for a fire disaster

 

Having stated that, fire protection engineering will help you in the case that a fire breaks out. The first thing is that you should call the fire and rescue department that serves your locality. As a farmer, you could be located in a remote area. In such a case, time is of essence, and you need to give the exact direction on your location.

Unfortunately, many farmers try to fight the fire on their own. Whereas this is possible, such a move is not only unsafe but could lead to loss of life. It is better to wait for the professionals in order to be safe. When you call the fire department, be sure to send someone at your farm gate, someone who can guide the fire department on going around the farm, and the affected parts.

Most people know about climate change as part of the news. However, as an American farmer, you are going to come face to face with the impact of climate change. If there is a state that is vulnerable to fire, then that state is California. As a matter of fact, fires in California have left a permanent scar among the poor, the disabled, and the elderly. Communities in California have been devastated by fire. In California, climate change has damaged the agricultural roots of the state, which run deep. The New York Times describes California as aflame due to the rampant incidences of wildfires.

California faces many wild fires in both July and August. USA Today says that 2020 is the worst years for California fires with the state losing 2500 square miles of land and recording a death toll of 22 people. Fires in California are caused by cigarette butts, fireworks, and campfires. But of course, the wild fires in California are a clear evidence of the impact of climate change in the country in general and in the state in particular.

During the time of harvesting that is during the dry season farms are vulnerable to fires.Again, in such a time, fires are going to spread fast. Therefore, during the off season, it is time that you prepared yourself for a possible fire during the time of harvesting.

farm machinery on fire

Help in the Court Process

 

Unfortunately, you could be taken to court due to the aftermath of a fire that started in your farm. Such litigation could be based on loss of life, injuries, and loss of property. If you want to win a court case, it is important that you seek the help of the professionals who are working in your case, and they can help you in the justification thereof. Alternatively, you can seek an out of court settlement which can be cheaper and faster. In such a case, the fire engineer is going to be of help to you.

In the case of legal proceedings, either in court or alternative dispute resolution, it is important that you give evidence that you had laid concrete measures on fire protection. Whereas a case may go either way, people who have a higher probability of winning a case are those who show that they did not neglect safety measures.

For example, if you show that you had hired a fire protection engineer, and you did as he or she had advised, then the court could be lenient on you. Therefore, it is important that you prepare yourself early for any eventuality. Whatever you do, have your documentation in place.

Positive Use of Fires

At one time or the other, you are going to make use of the fire in order to start a fire. Rather than doing this on your own, contact a fire protection engineer. He or she will look at the purpose of the fire, the targeted areas, and the possibility that the fire could go out of hand. The following are circumstances that could warrant the use of fire:

-Burning in order to convert a forest land for the purpose of agriculture

-Agricultural burns in order to improve pasture

-General forest management (for farmers in forested areas)

From the above circumstances, the fire has to be prescribed, and it has to be done from an expert position.

 

Conclusion

 

As you can see, a fire protection engineer is a critical part of protecting your farm and by extension, life and property. Therefore, you need to renew your commitment to the issue of fire engineering in order to prepare yourself for the risk of fire. Overall, investing in fire protection engineering carries a high return on investment and is definitely worth it.