"West Texas has its own corridor in the works, the Ports-to-Plains Corridor."
Officials call for plan on cost
March 2, 2008
By Enrique Rangel
Amarillo Globe-News, Austin Bureau
AUSTIN - With all the attention the proposed Trans-Texas Corridor has gotten in recent years, mainly because of growing public opposition, it is easy to forget that West Texas has its own corridor in the works, the Ports-to-Plains Corridor.
The Ports-to-Plains Corridor is a proposed divided highway stretching from Laredo through West Texas to Denver to facilitate international trade from Mexico to Canada.
And though Congress designated it as a high priority 10 years ago, it has yet to get full funding.
"It is time to establish the financial plan so we know exactly what we're aiming for," Fred Underwood, a Lubbock businessman and member of the Texas Transportation Commission, said on Sept. 20 at a three-day Great Plains International Conference in Denver.
"Our agency will devote the resources to getting this done in partnership with the Ports-to-Plains Trade Corridor Coalition," Underwood said. "We must make this corridor a reality and make Ports-to-Plains a familiar name to communities along this route who will benefit tremendously from its completion."
Although the state has yet to devise the complete financing plan for its share of the almost 1,400-mile interstate corridor, the project is under way, said Michael Reeves, president of the Ports-to-Plains Corridor Coalition.
"We have some projects underway in Del Rio and on Highway 87 (U.S. 87) in the Panhandle," Reeves said. "What we're trying to do is incorporate highways into the system."
The Coalition is optimistic that the project can be completed in 20 years, Reeves said.
At $2.8 billion for the entire route, the estimated cost is a bargain compared to other TxDOT projects. For example, it would cost $46 billion just to upgrade the Texas portion of Interstate 35.
"The challenge we face is inflation," Reeves said. "We really need to make a commitment. The gas tax is not producing the money so we're trying to get federal money ... we're trying to get every resource we can."
The benefits for West Texas are incalculable, Reeves said.
The corridor would be the nation's freight alternative, offering shippers a low-density, low-congestion alternative to the major trade corridors.
In addition, the Plains-to-Port Corridor would help the state expand its booming wind power sector, Reeves said.
Although they are not part of the corridor, Denver is connected to Canada through two routes, Reeves said, one through Wyoming and Montana to Alberta and the other through the Dakotas to Saskatchewan.
In all, the Ports-to-Plains Corridor is vital for a healthy Texas economy because even though Mexico is the state's largest trading partner, the Lone Star State is also doing booming business with Canada, especially with Alberta, he said.
"It's very important to see the corridor underway," said Mark Tomlinson, district engineer for TxDOT in the Panhandle. "It encourages growth."
But because of the financial problems the agency faces, "I anticipate that part of the plan most likely will be delayed," Tomlinson said.
However, Rep. Carl Isett, R-Lubbock, is optimistic that the project eventually will be fully funded.
He said it is in the entire's state interest to see it completed because it will take away some of the freight traffic from I-35.
"My colleagues understand that the Ports-to-Plains Corridor helps their districts as well," said Isett who is chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on General Government, which recommends funding for all government agencies, and chairman of the Sunset Advisory Commission, the 10-member legislative panel which oversees the state bureaucracy.
Generally, each government agency is reviewed every 12 years. This year TxDOT is one of 27 due for review.
"This is a big part of the conversation in the Sunset Commission," Isett said. "The long-term structure of the agency will be part of the review process."
Globe-News Austin Bureau Chief Enrique Rangel can be reached at email@example.com or by mail at P.O. Box 12457, Austin TX 78711-2457.
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