Wednesday, December 17, 2008

"The vision lives on."

Summit shows Ports-to-Plains vision still strong


By Enrique Rangel
The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal
Copyright 2008

AUSTIN - Seven years after Gov. Rick Perry first proposed it, the future of the controversial Trans-Texas Corridor remains in doubt, mainly because of growing public opposition.

But there is no doubt about the bright future of the Ports-to-Plains Trade Corridor, the proposed divided highway stretching from Laredo to Canada via West Texas, which is expected to play a major role in integrating the economies of the United States, Canada and Mexico, the three partners in the 15-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement.

That was the consensus of the premier of the province of Alberta, Canada, and more than a dozen speakers, including several from the Panhandle and the South Plains, who attended a corridor summit here Tuesday.

"The vision lives on," said U.S. Rep. Randy Neugebauer, R, Lubbock. "This is an ongoing process."

The process is the securing of more than $900 million in federal funds to develop, build and improve the corridor, which comprises 2,333 miles of highway in the United States, Canada and Mexico, nearly two-thirds of those miles in the U.S., according to a brochure distributed at the summit.

And among the biggest beneficiaries are Alberta and Texas, said Ed Stelmach, premier of Alberta.

"Alberta and Texas are destined to be leaders" because both are leading agricultural and energy producers, Stelmach said in his keynote speech.

Texas is already Alberta's second-largest trading partner, after California, but given the importance of energy that partnership could become even bigger in the years ahead, he said afterward in an interview.

And West Texas, particularly the Panhandle/South Plains region, is already seeing the benefits the corridor is producing, said Mike Running, executive director of the Dumas Economic Development Corp.

In Dumas, for example, the community is seeing annual sales tax receipt increases of 5 to 12 percent and the construction of 180 new hotel rooms, Running said during his presentation.

Moreover, thanks to the Ports-to-Plains Corridor, Dalhart was able to attract Hilmar Cheese, which is now a draw for other businesses.

"Now dairies are moving into the area because of Hilmar and they all want to be near a highway," Running said. "The fertilizer business in Dumas is booming" as well.

John White, chairman and CEO of Houston-based Standard Renewable Energy Group, said the corridor will be a great engine for economic development because it is also a "wind corridor."

With the help of a large map, White pointed out that Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Colorado, Wyoming and Montana, the American states the corridor crisscrosses, are wind energy leaders.

Stelmach in an interview said that for the public to understand the importance of the corridor the best way to see it is not in terms of a highway but as a key component of trade.

"This is about trade, about economic growth, about jobs, about improving the lives of the people" who live in the communities the corridor crisscrosses, he said.

Another reason why Texas and Alberta stand to benefit greatly from the corridor is because there are plans to build an oil pipeline - like the one running from Alaska to the continental United States - along the corridor's route all the way to the Gulf of Mexico.

"This is going to be a big boost for our economies," Stelmach said of Alberta and Texas.

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