Monday, July 27, 2009

Ports-to-Plains Toll Corridor: “It’s really connecting all the dots.”

Group promotes ports-to-plains highway


Amanda Casanova
Abiline Reporter-News
Copyright 2009

Duffy Hinkle, vice president of membership and marketing for the Ports-to-Plains Coalition, has a photo of a truck circling the Boise City, Okla., courthouse, carrying wind turbines and disrupting traffic. It is a common sight for the small town and others like it where heavy truck traffic causes congestion.

The coalition is hoping for congressional support for a highway expansion project it favors to construct a major freight roadway, better serve rural U.S. areas, and ease trade congestion.

“Everything that travels from south to north or north to south goes right through the middle of our town,” said Gloria McDonald, Big Spring City Council member and city representative for Ports-to-Plains. “We’re very interested in making a pathway.”

A 20-year plan would expand the highway between Laredo and Denver to four lanes at an estimated cost of $2.6 billion. The expansion would allow for an increase in the flow of goods from Mexico to Canada. It is also estimated that the roadwork would generate $4.5 billion in new jobs, sales taxes, lodging and manufacturing.

“Economic development has always followed transportation,” Hinkle said. “Enhanced infrastructure for transportation of goods and services will increase economic development opportunities in rural communities throughout the corridor.”

New Mexico, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Wyoming, Montana and North and South Dakota are encouraging regional projects, which together with the Texas-Colorado segment, would connect Laredo to the Canadian border, spanning a total distance of 2,300 miles.

Produce, livestock, petrochemicals and oil and gas equipment are transported on the roadway. Combined, the nine states accounted for about $43.2 billion in corridor truck exports to Mexico in 2007 and $38.2 billion in imports.

While the city of Big Spring, Howard County, Howard College, the chamber of commerce and the economic development board are all supporting the highway, the town’s 25,000 people were not as thrilled with the project in the beginning.

“Like anything new, people were bitterly opposed at first,” McDonald said. “Three years of town hall meetings, they’ve come to understand the kind of traffic we’re trying to get to go around is not the kind that is going to stop and buy barbecue or get gas.”
McDonald said she has assured residents that Big Spring visitors and travelers will not be affected by the road.

“We’ll still have the traffic that will stop and eat and buy gas,” she said. “The other road is not a shorter route, so we’ll tell travelers to go through town.”

Launched in 1997, the Lubbock-based coalition has worked with the project’s founder, U.S. Rep. Randy Neugebauer, and other state and federal officials to secure project funding.

“As far as opposition, we see very little,” Hinkle said. “People realize the potential of what the corridor can do for their communities.”

The multilane highway would connect with the Heartland Expressway and Theodore Roosevelt Highway, leading to the Canadian border.

In May, the Province of Alberta in Canada joined the coaltion in hopes to transport Canadian oil and agriculture.

“They can get the oil where it needs to be more quickly,” McDonald said. “It’s really connecting all the dots.”

In Big Spring, the McMahon-Wrinkle Airport could be used for moving shipments.

“If goods are moving from Colorado and somebody wants to switch, we have the area to store containers,” she said. “We’re probably also the only one on the route that has a truck-rail-air connection here.”

While Big Spring welcomes the route, McDonald said other parts of Texas should as well.

“This road is also a priority of Texas Department of Transportation because it will relieve the 1-35 corridor,” she said. “It’s much simpler to build roads in the wide open spaces than in the metro area.”

Within the next 25 years, Texas population is expected to balloon by 64 percent, with highway use estimated to increase 214 percent.

“According to a Ports-to-Plains study,” Hinkle said, “upon completion of the corridor, the number of accidents will be reduced by almost half in the state of Texas as well as a significant reduction of accidents in the other Ports-to-Plains states. Safety is just one of many benefits that will result from upgrading highways from two to four lanes along the corridor.”

Several highway projects along the corridor have been started. In mid-July, Eagle Pass broke ground for State Loop 480, while Dalhart and Texline, towns near the New Mexico-Texas state line, have also began construction for the highway.


When: Sept. 30 Oct. 2

Where: Overton Hotel & Conference Center, Lubbock, Texas

Cost : $199 registration fee

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