Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Fort Worth ‘super corridor’ conference held after 80th Legislative session ends

Authorities shift focus to ‘super corridor’


By Jonathan Knutson and Melinda Rogers
The Forum (Fargo-Moorhead, North Dakota)
Copyright 2007

A proposed North American “super corridor” would relieve overburdened highways and promote economic growth in three countries, supporters say.

But others wonder whether the proposal might bring in cheap exports and put unsafe Mexican trucks on U.S. roads.

The issue takes center stage at a three-day conference that begins today in Fort Worth, Texas. More than 350 transportation, logistics and economic development specialists from the United States, Canada and Mexico are meeting.

The conference is sponsored by Dallas-based North America’s SuperCorridor Coalition.

The nonprofit coalition, whose members include public- and private-sector organizations, wants to develop an integrated transportation system linking the three countries.

The corridor includes interstates 29, 94 and 35, giving North Dakota and Minnesota a stake in the outcome. The project has drawn heavy criticism, including claims that it threatens U.S. control of its own borders.

Such claims are “extremely inaccurate, false and unhelpful to the country’s actual needs,” said Francisco Conde, the coalition’s director of special projects and communications.

The real issue is that the U.S. Interstate Highway System, completed in 1970, is increasingly overwhelmed by the country’s growing population and economy, he said.

The transportation system needs to be expanded for growth to continue, he said.

North Dakota and western Minnesota have less immediate need for the super corridor than the southern Great Plains does, said Jerry Nagel, president of Fargo-based Northern Great Plains, which seeks to maximize the area’s potential through regional collaboration.

The existing highway system in this area is still adequate – which isn’t the case in the southern Great Plains, where some highways are stressed by heavy traffic, he said.

Texas lawmakers for months have wrangled over construction of what is known as the Trans-Texas Corridor.

Plans call for a transportation network across Texas, including a 10-lane highway with six lanes for automobiles and four lanes for trucks. Freight and commuter railways and a utilities corridor are also part of the proposal, which would stretch the system from Laredo, Texas, to Canada.

The idea has sparked controversy in Texas, where rural interest groups are opposed to paving thousands of acres of farmland for transportation.

There aren’t any plans for super corridor-related construction in North Dakota, said Bob Fode, director of transportation projects for the state Department of Transportation.

David Martin, president of the Chamber of Commerce of Fargo Moorhead, said his group supports the super corridor project. The region’s continued growth requires expanded transportation opportunities, he said.

North Dakota Commerce Commissioner Shane Goettle said a transportation corridor would help the state. Both North Dakota and Minnesota are exporting more to Mexico and Canada, according to U.S. government figures.

From 2001 to 2006, North Dakota increased its exports to Mexico from $38 million to $55 million and its exports to Canada from $394 million to $727 million. In the same period, Minnesota exports to Mexico rose from $435 million to $595 million, with exports to Canada rising from $2.6 billion to $4.1 billion.

The proposed super corridor worries the American trucking industry.

“We are concerned about the safety standards of Mexican trucks,” said Thomas Balzer, managing director of the North Dakota Motor Carriers Association.

There’s also concern that Mexican truckers will improperly carry goods between U.S. cities while they’re in this country with international shipments, he said.

Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., said it likely will be 20 years before the project has any impact on Minnesota.

He said it’s too early to know how such a corridor would affect the Red River Valley, but there are some concerns over how an influx of Canadian and Mexican imports could affect North Dakota and northwestern Minnesota’s economies.

“There’s a lot of concern out there with some people about Canadian cattle, and hogs and wheat. You’ve got a different situation on the Mexico border,” Peterson said.

“It depends on where it goes and how it’s developed.”

Readers can reach Forum reporters Jonathan Knutson at (701) 241-5530 and Melinda Rogers at (701) 241-5524

The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead

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