Friday, October 13, 2006

Third 'NAFTA Corridor' in the works

TxDOT to study alternative transportation along Ports-to-Plains


By Eric Finley
The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal
Copyright 2006

The Texas Department of Transportation director said his department will study alternative transportation possibilities along the Ports-to-Plains corridor, which could lead to additional funding to finish the project.

Michael Behrens said the department will use the same study it used for possible routes of the Trans-Texas Corridor, looking at whether railroads or utility lines could be added to enhance the Ports-to-Plains roadways.

"The study will take about 90 days," Behrens said. "Hopefully we'll have it by midspring."

Behrens made the announcement Thursday at the Ports-to-Plains annual summit in Lubbock.

The project has sought funding for the past 10 years to turn existing roads from Laredo to Denver into four- or six-lane divided highways. About half the project has either been completed, under construction or has designs in place. Once construction projects in the Panhandle and New Mexico are complete, the corridor will have four-lane divided highways from San Angelo to Raton, N.M., a distance of about 530 miles.

Eventually, it will link seaports in Mexico with the U.S.-Canadian border.

The Trans-Texas Corridor will be funded primarily through toll roads. Ports-to-Plains uses existing roadways, so tolls aren't an option. Funding has been a concern for the project, since federal gas taxes don't cover the needs of the state and additional federal highway money is hard to come by.

Ports-to-Plains received about $120 million in the most recent federal transportation bill, but organizers are seeking about $2.8 billion to finish the current plans for the project.

That's why Ports-to-Plains president Michael Reeves said alternative funding sources the TxDOT study might turn up are worth pursuing.

"We know the (federal) gas tax isn't providing enough. We should look at doing something different," Reeves said.

Speakers at the conference suggested the route was poised to explode with trucks carrying corn or sorghum for ethanol use, or carrying ethanol from processing plants. The project could gain revenue from leasing rights of way for transmission lines to Interstate 20 and I-10 to carry wind energy to the eastern part of the state.

Communities and counties that support the project are hopeful of the economic benefits the traffic would bring. The American Trucking Association expects another 1 million trucks on U.S. highways in 10 years.

"You can't talk about traffic without talking about economic development," U.S. Rep. Randy Neugebauer, R-Lubbock, said during the summit's keynote speech.

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