Men's Breakfast Report, January 2012

The Men’s Breakfast Group met Saturday, January 14 with Raz Hada, an engineer with the Texas Department of Transportation.  Raz is a native of Nepal and was educated in Nepal and India as a civil engineer.  He worked in Nepal as a civil engineer primarily on water projects and also some highway projects.  He was chosen in a lottery to receive a visa to come to the United States and after a while got a job with the Texas Department of Transportation in Angleton. 

His current project is helping supervise the Highway 332 overpass construction in Lake Jackson and Clute.  He says that the goal is to get the project finished and the highway open by March.  The contractor will receive a bonus of $7500 for every day that the project comes in under schedule and will have to pay a penalty for every day it is late.  The contractor is therefore working hard to beat the deadline, even working nights to speed things along.  There was discussion as to whether this project was really necessary since traffic has seldom been a problem on this street.  The reason for the project is not present traffic but projections of future traffic due to expansion of the port.  An additional 400 trucks a day are projected to pass through once the new terminal is built and the channel is widened.

 This led to discussions of what the port will need.  Other members of the group said that a large staging area for trucks and a marshalling yard for trains will be needed.  This will require land that Freeport was planning on using for building residences, so this will have to be negotiated.  This will also put parts of Freeport directly adjacent to industrial property. 

One future project is replacing the Pine Street Bridge.  The present bridge does not have adequate shoulders, especially for traffic that may come from the port.  This project will interfere with the marina, which is encroaching on highway right of way.  Negotiations on this are in progress. 

The next project that Raz will be working on is the revetment on Bluewater Highway.  The cost is being paid primarily with state and federal funds.  The revetment will protect only part of the highway, those areas that were washed out during Hurricane Ike.  One question is whether it is worth spending this much money to protect a few beach houses.  The revetment will also help protect the intracoastal canal, a much more important facility.  It is questionable if this revetment will be adequate, considering the coming sea level rise due to global warming.

Raz also talked about some of his work in Nepal.  He worked on a high dam for flood protection.  People said that the high dam was a waste of money since it was much higher than the lake behind it.  Then a heavy storm came through one night and the water rose 200 feet in one night. The dam prevented major flooding downstream. He also described flooding and a landslide that tumbled rocks as large as Fellowship Hall   He said that the crashing of rocks caused sparks that looked like lightning under water. 

There was discussion of funding for highways.  The gasoline tax has not been raised in several years although expenses have gone up.  Also, cars have gotten more efficient so each car pays less per mile than previously.  The state has gotten around this funding shortfall by various tricks.  One method has been to sell mobility bonds.  This puts off the day of reckoning until the politicians have retired and are collecting their pensions.  Another to be used on a stretch of Highway 36 is a virtual toll.  A contractor will build the highway and be paid for each car that uses it.  This is also just an expensive way of borrowing money, but does not show up on the books.

As usual, the men had an interesting discussion and a good breakfast.  The next meeting will be Saturday, February 11th.