For years, employees with El Paso’s transit system, Sun Metro, could only wonder how many of their riders use the Paso del Norte point of entry bridge connecting El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua. Individuals are first admitted through the customs process, and then they walk the few blocks to Sun Metro’s main transit station (called the Downtown Transfer Center) and connect with a bus destined for another part of the city. Until now, Sun Metro could only guess how many of their riders came from Mexico.
Assistant Research Scientist David Galicia with TTI’s Center for International Intelligent Transportation Research and TTI Research Scientist Michael Walk discuss the feasibility study TTI conducted for El Paso to help regional authorities better meet the challenges of connecting local and county transit services to better meet the needs of residents who rely on those services for their everyday mobility. | View the Video
The same innovation that could let your car talk to others in the near future could also reduce the time you wait for your new television or fresh produce by making truck safety inspections at the U.S.-Mexico border quicker and more thorough. [Read more…] about Applying Technology to Make Border Crossings Quicker, Safer for Trucks
Assistant Research Scientist David Galicia with TTI’s Center for International Intelligent Transportation Research talks about using wireless technologies to help the city of El Paso determine how its citizens use the local transit services provided by Sun Metro. Better data will help the city apply transit resources efficiently when planning routes to ensure citizens receive the most benefit possible. | View the Video
Associate Research Engineer Alfredo Sanchez with TTI’s Center for International Intelligent Transportation Research talks about the value of collecting private and commercial data at the border to better estimate border wait times. Knowing how long it takes people and goods to cross the border can impact tourism and how much consumers pay in stores. | View the Video
If you’ve ever visited the Texas-Mexico border during peak crossing times, you know a lot of time is spent waiting to cross. And, as the old saying goes, time is money. That’s particularly true for shippers moving goods and manufacturing materials from point A in Mexico to point B in the United States. [Read more…] about A New, Web-Based Platform to Alleviate Cross-Border Traffic Congestion
Currently, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) publishes the number of lanes open at the land ports of entry (LPOEs) on their website. This information is updated once every hour in most cases. However, it has been observed that in some cases this information is not updated for several hours, and in other cases, the information has proven unreliable.
In a reliable transportation system, motorists know with a high degree of certainty when they will arrive to their destination. Numerous factors directly affect reliability such as signal timing, work zones, incidents, unusually high demand, special events, weather, and the performance of complementary and competing modes). The purpose of a travel-time reliability monitoring system (TTRMS) is to collect travel-time data from various sources and to monitor travel-time reliability. Such a system allows transportation agencies to quantify travel-time reliability of their transportation networks and evaluate the impact of transportation network improvements on reliability. Moreover, freight carriers can make more informed decisions to minimize their travel times and possibly reducing transportation costs.
For shippers, knowing how long it takes to move freight is important to their bottom line. But until now, accurately predicting the time it takes to cross the border hasn’t been possible.
Though careful vetting of shipments crossing the border is necessary to maintain security, unreliable border wait times can cause major slowdowns for freight traveling from Mexico to the United States. In 2008, the Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI) demonstrated a system to the Federal Highway Administration that accurately, reliably leveraged technology to collect border wait time data.
Over the course of several research projects, TTI researchers created a solution that uses radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology, currently present in most trucks, to measure border wait times. Deployed at seven commercial ports of entry across Texas, this system provides anyone interested — and especially U.S. Customs and Border Protection — with reliable estimates via the website TTI created.
Before the website was available, shippers relied on the free travel-time estimates provided by Google to predict cross-border travel times, but the time spent at the crossing was not included in Google’s estimate. TTI’s approach uses the border wait times from the website combined with travel times from Google to provide a better travel-time prediction.
“We’re supplying that missing piece of the puzzle,” says TTI Software Developer Swapnil Samant. “With the machine-learning algorithm we developed, we can predict accurate travel times from origin to destination and post them to the website for a given 24-hour period. And we refine the estimate every half hour.”
By updating the estimate 48 times a day, TTI can provide shippers with an accurate travel-time estimate for commercial vehicles passing through border checkpoints. And it wouldn’t have been possible, Samant says, without the expertise of Jose Rivera Montes De Oca, a Texas A&M University graduate student studying math.
Beginning with data generated in 2013, the algorithm takes reams of historical data and predicts the expected wait time at the border for a given day and time. That means more efficient cross-border supply chains, and that can mean a better bottom line for U.S. manufacturers and, potentially, savings for consumers.
“Sometimes the field of mathematics is so theoretical, you can’t really explain what you do to other people,” says Rivera Montes De Oca. “But I can point to the website and show them how my work makes a difference. My time at TTI has been amazing. If I could work here the rest of my life, I would.”
Originally published as “Student Insights Lead to Research Innovations: TTI Provides More Reliable Cross-Border Travel Time Estimates” in the Texas Transportation Researcher, Volume 53, Number 1 (2017).
In 2007, The Texas Legislature enabled a new financing mechanism, the transportation reinvestment zone (TRZ), to encourage local infrastructure development. TRZs have proven very successful over the last decade for highway development.
TRZs designate an impact area around a needed improvement project. A municipality or county can use some or all of the property and sales tax increment revenue projected to accrue from the improvement to fund the project. While the original legislation applied to most transportation projects, port projects weren’t included — until now.
“The funding tools available to Texas ports have traditionally been focused on improvements within the ports themselves,” explains Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI) Senior Research Scientist Rafael Aldrete, who heads TTI’s Center for International Intelligent Transportation Research. “The legislation in 2013 recognized the positive impact expanding ports can have on the broader local landscape.”
Once the legal framework was in place, port authorities and the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) saw the need for guidelines ports could use to set a TRZ. Under TxDOT’s direction, TTI developed webinar materials, case studies and evaluation tools, which are now available for any port to use.
“The quality of the roads — both within and outside the port — can impact a port’s effectiveness, and that in turn impacts the local economy,” says Aldrete. As ports expand by, say, increasing warehouse capacity, they naturally employ more local residents to work in those warehouses. And the residents need places to live (helping create a healthy real estate market) and buy goods (improving the local gross domestic product). In short, a healthy port makes for a healthy community.
“We used the ports in Beaumont and Brownsville to refine our model,” explains Bae, “and now it’s applicable to any port, anywhere, seeking funding through a TRZ.”
Texas has often led the nation in advancing transportation, and it was the first state to implement TRZs. Now, once again, TxDOT is setting the standard for ports nationwide to take advantage of this innovative financing tool.
Originally published as “Student Insights Lead to Research Innovations: TTI Provides Guidelines for Ports Seeking TRZ Financing” in the Texas Transportation Researcher, Volume 53, Number 1 (2017).