Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Ports to Plains summit planned for September 2008

Ports-to-Plains leaders announce 'Summit' conference in Del Rio

January 14, 2008

By Bill SontagFeature Writer
Del Rio Live!
Copyright 2008

For five years, Sid Cauthorn, president and CEO, The Bank & Trust, has presided over the board of directors of the Ports-to-Plains Coalition, growing the organization with a small staff in the Lubbock offices and the support of 18 board members. The organization’s development is only partially measured by a swelling membership, including 42 cities and counties in four states, 15 economic development corporations, 11 chambers of commerce, 30 corporations, trade groups, universities, tourism and municipal planning organizations.

But Cauthorn insists the true gauge of the Ports-to-Plains Corridor’s success are the miles of multi-lane highways paved or under construction to create an international trade route from deep within Mexico, through the United States and into Canada. And, he adds, all these partners – “investors,” the organization calls its members – need an annual opportunity to congregate for transportation updates, market research reports and participation in casting a wider net of membership recruitment.

According to Cauthorn and Ports-to-Plains Coalition President Michael Reeves, the 2008 Ports-to-Plains Summit will roll into Del Rio in September, bringing to town upwards of 300 conference participants from government, business, political, educational and transportation spheres in several states and three nations. “We are working on having our annual meeting here, and Michael Reeves is already contacting folks to see if they’ll support the summit,” Cauthorn told LIVE! Monday (Jan. 7).

Tuesday (Jan. 8), Reeves confirmed that arrangements are underway to plan the 2008 Ports-to-Plains Summit here. Both Cauthorn and Reeves explained that the architecture of this Summit will be a departure from previous meetings, with greater emphasis on commerce and businesses that may benefit from a high-quality trade corridor through the heartlands of rural Mexico, America and Canada. Reeves commented that fears of free trade taking jobs away from U.S. cities and shores can be allayed if in-country transportation is improved. “The thing we want to point out – as an organization – is that we can create jobs right here in the U.S. with these kinds of transportation corridors,” said Reeves.

Cauthorn’s emphasis on “miles paved” gets a good progress report from each of the four states in the corridor’s path. Texas is in the throes of $40 million in expansion to four-lane highway on the corridor now, with another $275 million programmed through 2014, and $458 million planned for relief routes, such as the long-awaited “loop” around the east perimeter of Del Rio. Oklahoma is now constructing a $23 million loop around Boise City to unplug truck congestion through the twists and turns of that small burg’s downtown.

Colorado’s segment of Ports-to-Plains is U.S. Highway 287, and that old route is being upgraded with a “Super Two” cement-paved highway with broad shoulders. Cauthorn calls the “Super Two” “half of an Interstate Highway,” with an expansion right-of-way set aside for four-lane divided roadway in the future. In the last 13 years, Centennial State legislators have spent $150 million on this project, upgrading 124 miles. They are currently spending another $11.4 million on 22 miles, and have programmed an additional $5.1million for a 10 mile-segment this year.

Cauthorn drove the Ports-to-Plains corridor last year, and remarked glowingly on the extensive work pushed by New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson from Raton, N.M to Texline, Texas, through the high plains community of Clayton, N.M. “I was most impressed with the volume and level of work going on between Clayton and Raton,” Cauthorn said. “The last time I was over it, it was just a two-lane road, and not a good two-lane road at that. Pretty soon, most of it’s going to be brand new, four-lane divided.”

“But the biggest thing that’s going on in our part of the world is the loop around Del Rio. It’s still on the radar screen, and it’s still moving. It’s a big project, with big dollars, and that takes a long time to wind through all the steps. And then you’ve also got to deal with escalating costs of steel, concrete and asphalt,” Cauthorn said, adding that those same factors are profound influences up and down the 1,200 mile Ports-to-Plains Trade Corridor.

At the core of Ports-to-Plains Corridor development is the “remodeling” of old, traditional rural routes, into modern, eventually four-lane divided highways of sustainable design for heavy commercial traffic. This 2006 project on U.S. Highway 287 in Dumas, Texas, was part of the state’s $40 million investment in upgrades along the route, though $275 million are now programmed through 2014. (LIVE! photo/Bill Sontag) (click image to enlarge)

Cauthorn turned his attention to recent events in Austin, reporting mixed feelings. Less than two weeks ago, Ric Williamson, chairman of the Texas Transportation Commission died suddenly at the age of 55. (See http://www.swtexaslive.com/node/5804.) “Ric was a strong supporter of Ports-to-Plains, and he will be missed,” Cauthorn said. “But the politics of transportation may be in for some changes in the legislature soon.”

The Texas Department of Transportation is “up for reauthorization” in the next seated legislature, Cauthorn explained. “I’ve heard that legislators may be putting themselves in positions for earmarks, and I’ve got a real problem with that,” said Cauthorn. “TxDOT has done a great job, and we can’t ask for more than the way they’ve been operating already.” Cauthorn also commended the work of Amadeo Saenz, TxDOT executive director, explaining that Saenz should not be hampered in his management of the agency by special interest influences among the legislators.

Cauthorn remains optimistic about the foundation of support already curried and nourished with TxDOT. “Support for Ports-to-Plains in the Texas legislature has always been strong, but since Michael Reeves came along [as president], Ports-to-Plains has become a kind of plum for TxDOT. Now, they seem to be looking for ways to make Ports-to-Plains projects happen,” Cauthorn said. Reeves came to his current position only four years ago from the vice presidency of governmental affairs, Lubbock Chamber of Commerce.

Now, Cauthorn’s and Reeves’ views of the future of Ports-to-Plains extend beyond the northern horizon of the existing route. Reeves believes the goals of Ports-to-Plains are strongly aligned with a 2005 White House initiative, the “Security and Prosperity Partnership” announced trilaterally by President George W. Bush, Mexico President Felipe Calderon and Canada Prime Minister Stephen Harper. SPP focuses on enhancing international trade, with “ambitious security and prosperity programs to keep our borders closed to terrorism yet open to trade,” according to the thrust’s Web site, www.spp.gov.

“We’re going to be more aggressive in bringing in partners on the north end of the route, from Denver to Canada,” Cauthorn asserted. “Now, in the Congress, we have eight senators from Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Colorado. If we can get [similar corridors] in Montana, North and South Dakota, Nebraska and Wyoming as parts of an extension of Ports-to-Plains, we could add ten more senators into our caucus on Capitol Hill.”

For more information about Ports-to-Plains, see the organization’s Web site: www.portstoplains.com. For more LIVE! stories, descriptive of the people, communities and work underway along the Ports-to-Plains Trade Corridor, see these links:


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