Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Senator John Whitmire has a problem

Sen. Whitmire, I'm sure at the behest of the City of Houston, has been fighting eminent domain reform legislation tooth and nail in the Texas Legislature. Of the hundreds bills that have been introduced in an effort to counter various implications in some form or fashion of the Kelo v. New London ruling as well as abuses by the city and METRO over the last few years, only two major ones have survived so far and it's passage is far from certain. I must give Whitmire some grudging respect for his ability to kill bills he and his supporters don't like, but that talent might just be coming back to bite him in the ass.

You see, the CoH and the Houston Airport System plan on expanding IAH with at least one, possibly two more east/west runways. There are two possible locations for these runways. One is to put them between the two existing east/west runways, and the other is to condemn a bunch of houses, close a section of Lee Rd. and buy all the land between JFK and US-59 from Rankin to Greens Rd. and put the runways there. Each plan has it's pluses and minuses, but one stands out as the clear winner from the airport's POV.

Option one, putting the runways between existing runways:
  • Does not require the purchase of additional land.
  • Places the runways close enough together that simultaneous takeoffs/landings are no longer possible (runways must be a mile apart under FAA regs.), requiring takeoffs and landings on the three or four parallel runways to be staggered. this increases the workload of ATC and increases the risk of planes getting too close to each other, and possibly increasing the possibility of planes inadvertently trying to use the same runway due to confusion.
  • Puts all the east/west runways close together forcing all aircraft to use the same already congested taxiways, thereby increasing ground congestion, increased taxiing time, fuel consumption, and pollution. Planes will spend more time waiting to take off and land. Taxiing a 747-400 cargo variant just half a mile can cost upwards of $45K in fuel and maintenance costs alone.
These are all the things that are driving the expansion to begin with, which makes this option unattractive.

Option two, southern alignment:

  • Does not increase congestion of the existing taxiways and runways.
  • Closer to the cargo terminal which shortens the distance planes must taxi to take off. Cargo is a major driver for airport expansion.
  • Does not force staggered takeoff/landing operations. If both new runways are built, IAH could handle up to four planes taking off and/or landing at once most of the time since the prevailing winds are east to west.
  • Would require the condemnation and purchase of two subdivisions worth of land, and would require the closing of and/or rerouting of a section of Lee Road which is a major air cargo artery.
Therein lies Senator Whitmire's problem. All of those residents will get pennies on the dollar of the market value of their homes, that is pretty much a given. That will not sit well with many of them. They will be asking their elected politicians why they were left to twist in the wind under the eminent domain reform legislation. They will be unhappy to learn that Senator Whitmire was one of the chief opponents of eminent domain reform. Senator Whitmire is up for re-election next year. His seat might not be as safe as he would like as a result.

Ain't Karma a bitch?

Update/Addition: The Mighty Wizard takes a look at the City of Houston finances and draws some conclusions about the ability of the City to fund this expansion.


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