Houston may restrict cargo truck movements within city limits
Houston could soon become the largest U.S. city to enact a sweeping truck route plan to limit where tractor trailers can travel as they move through the city.
City officials have proposed a regulation that would limit the use of commercial trucks to major roads, and ban them on many smaller streets.
The goal of the measure is to improve road safety and quality of life in Houston, according to Moxian Fang, planning director for the city of Houston’s Department of Planning and Development.
“The Citywide Truck Route Plan (TRP) is an action item in the Vision Zero action plan to eliminate deaths and serious injuries on our roadways,” Fang said in an email to FreightWaves. “We have received numerous complaints from our residents about how cutting off truck traffic is causing traffic safety risks, road damage, and (reducing) the quality of life in their neighborhoods.”
Vision Zero is a Federal Highway Administration initiative adopted by cities across the country to eliminate all traffic deaths and serious injuries, while increasing road safety.
Houston’s TRP proposes to designate a limited set of roads as truck routes for any commercial vehicle with a gross weight of more than 26,000 pounds, including hauled load. The routes will be allocated into three categories:
- Via truck routes: Major routes for commercial vehicles traveling within and through a city, including interstates, state highways, toll roads, critical urban freight corridors, and functional roads suitable for truck traffic.
- Local truck routes: Major roads that provide direct access to local origins and destinations and can serve as alternative routes for trucks in the event a truck route is closed for construction or emergency purposes.
- Streets where trucks are prohibited: Sections of the road where truck traffic is prohibited, and which can only be used to reach local sources and destinations.
The mapping process to finalize the truck routes is currently underway. The department will conduct a pilot test in the Citygast neighborhood in northeast Houston next spring before finalizing the truck plan.
If the plan goes forward, carriers who violate it and travel on streets that don’t allow trucks could be fined up to $500.
Fang said the Houston Department of Planning and Development has begun a series of public engagement activities to engage all stakeholders in the party’s efforts.
“We coordinated with the Texas Department of Transportation, Houston-Galveston Area Council, Houston Port Authority, Harris County, (and) the Houston Transportation Association to develop a citywide truck route plan,” Fang said. “All of our stakeholders support this effort.”
John Esparza, CEO of the Texas Trucking Association, said that while he appreciates that Houston officials are addressing the issue of truck traffic through the planning process, he has concerns about a broad plan that does not take into account the day-to-day operations of local trucking companies.
“We stress that if there are specific problems in local schools or neighborhoods – let’s address them,” Esparza told FreightWaves. “In a non-zoning city, I can only hope they take into consideration each trucking company, i.e. where the companies are located and their proximity to residential areas.”
The city does not have zoning laws, but the development is subject to ordinance laws that address how property is divided, according to the city’s website.
“Since Houston is not a zoned area, we’re talking about a community of trucking companies that could be near residential areas, so how does the city determine what truck is trying to get in and out of their operations, get to where they need to go and deliver the shipment,” Esparza said. “. “I hope they’re listening to businesses in Houston, as they raise those specific concerns, about restrictions on where trucking companies can come in and out of their operations and where they can deliver. Any time you see those restrictions proposed, that will ultimately impact the way they This car carrier operates on it.
Houston is one of America’s fastest-growing port cities
With a population of 2.3 million, Houston is the largest city in Texas and the fourth largest in the United States. The greater Houston area is home to 7.3 million people and could grow to more than 8 million by 2028, according to a recent study by real estate consultant Site Selection Group.
Houston is also one of the busiest coastal cities in the country. The 52-mile-long Houston Ship Channel includes more than 200 private terminals and eight public terminals, collectively known as the Port of Houston.
The port and ship channel helps create about 1.5 million jobs across the state and generates about $439 billion in statewide economic impact annually, according to a study by Port Houston.
The Port of Houston ranked as the fifth-largest U.S. container port by total twenty-foot equivalent units in 2022, at 3.9 million TEU. Last year’s total tonnage rose 22% year-on-year (year-on-year) compared to 2021, reaching 55 million short tons, a new record, according to the port.
Over the past few years, supply chain diversification across the United States has helped the Port of Houston increase its market share of container traffic, as well as imports and exports of products such as steel and resins.
Customs data from FreightWaves’ SONAR platform shows inbound container volumes at the Port of Houston have increased steadily since 2019 but rose and fell sharply in September and October, falling 8% year over year in September to 325,588 TEU. While freight traffic has remained flat for most of the year, it is down compared to 2022’s record results, Roger Guenther, the port’s executive director, said at a recent committee meeting.
The trucking company has concerns about the route plan
Jefferson Walker, director of operations for Houston-based transportation company JH Walker Trucking, expressed disappointment and concern about the proposed truck route plan.
“We as an airline are frustrated by the idea of restricting our ability to move and operate throughout the city of Houston,” Walker told FreightWaves. “We do not feel it is necessary because it will only be used as a way to ticket us and hinder our ability to operate and do business throughout the city.”
JH Walker Trucking of Houston has been a provider of oilfield express transportation services for over 30 years. The carrier uses everything from pickup trucks to cargo trucks to 48-foot flatbed tractor trailers to move goods.
Walker said his company operates more than 200 trucks, delivering an average of 700 to 800 loads per day. He’s concerned about how the plan will impact the business.
“They presented their plan to us as a way to reduce noise pollution and erosion on city streets for its residents by setting aside dedicated lanes for the use of our trucks,” Walker said. “The problem is, we make deliveries all over town in everything from the size of a small sedan all the way up to a large tractor towing 100,000-plus pounds.”
Houston’s size and lack of zoning also creates logistical challenges for any trucking company, Walker said.
“Houston is a city that extends in every direction covering 640 square miles and without zoning, we have customers in every part of the city,” Walker said. “The truth is, we don’t choose to drive on city streets just to add miles to our trucks or because we think they’re faster or more efficient. The streets are often slower and more dangerous to maneuver in a large truck. The only reason we use the streets is because we’re on our way to or from the ship /Consignee to ship the load.
Walker also said it’s unfair to restrict commercial vehicle movement around the city when trucking companies have to pay taxes that go to road infrastructure.
“Our roads and infrastructure are funded primarily by fuel tax revenues, and a typical five-axle truck pays $4,454 a year in diesel and heavy vehicle use taxes alone, which is about 50 times more than the average car,” Walker said. . “We are very happy to pay this use tax as consumers because we pay to maintain and improve the streets we depend on for business. However, when you still collect this money but no longer allow us to use these roads, we feel we are now being unfairly taxed.”
Click for more FreightWaves articles by Noe Mahoney.
More articles by Noe Mahoney
10 Roads Express lays off 66 workers in Texas
Mexico remains the United States’ No. 1 trading partner and Laredo’s No. 1 gateway
FreightWise acquires TMS provider Kuebix from Trimble