Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Texas Hiway Construction

Immigration & Foreign Affairs
Texas Segment of NAFTA Super Highway Nears Construction

by Jerome R. Corsi
Posted Jun 21, 2006

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The Trans-Texas Corridor (TTC) is ready to begin construction in 2007, building the first segment of what is planned to be a NAFTA Super Highway stretching from Mexico to Canada. As we have previously written, the NAFTA Super Highway is planned to begin at Laredo, Tex., proceeding north to Kansas City via Oklahoma City, and ultimately connecting with Canadian limited-access highways north of Duluth, Minn.

On March 11, 2005, a "Comprehensive Development Agreement" was signed by the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) to build the "TTC-35 High Priority Corridor" parallel to Interstate 35. The contracting party involved a limited partnership formed between Cintra Concesiones de Infraestructuras de Transporte, S.A., a publically listed company headquartered in Spain, owned by the Madrid-based Groupo Ferrovial, and a San Antonio-based construction company, Zachry Construction Corp.

The Comprehensive Development Agreement called for Cintra-Zachry to provide private investment of $6 billion "to fully design, construct and operate a four-lane 316 mile toll road between Dallas and San Antonio for up to 50 years as the initial segment of TTC-35." For this, Cintra-Zachry paid Texas $1.2 billion for the long-term right to build and operate the initial segment as a toll facility. The contract envisioned that Cintra-Zachry would develop a plan to build the entire TTC from Laredo to the border of Oklahoma, along Interstate 35, with the intention to connect into an Oklahoma constructed segment of the NAFTA Super Corridor. The development plan called for Cintra-Zachry to specify the near term five-year plan (2005-2010), mid-term (2010-2025), and long-term (after 2025), in what was envisioned to be a 50-year project involving the construction of a network of TTC roads throughout Texas.

In April 2006, TxDOT released a 4,000 page Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for what was described as the "Trans-Texas Corridor - 35 (TTC-35) Oklahoma to Mexico/Gulf Coast Element," a title consistent with the goal to build a new highway parallel to I-35, designed to connect Mexico into a U.S. corridor that would continue with the Oklahoma segment of a NAFTA Super Corridor extending ultimately to Canada.

The April 2006 EIS made clear that Cintra-Zachry had expanded the original corridor concept to the ultimate plan of building a 1,200 foot-wide (approximately four football fields wide) complex involving ten lanes of highway -- five lanes in each direction, north and south, with three lanes in each direction reserved for passenger vehicles and two separate lanes reserved for trucks. The EIS design included six rail lines running parallel to the highway, with separate rail lines in each direction for high-speed rail, commuter rail, and freight rail. Finally, the design called for a 200-foot wide utility corridor that include pipelines for oil and natural gas, pipelines for both water, cables for telecommunications and data, as well as electricity towers running the length of the TTC.

The international design of the TTC was made clear by the EIS statement of purpose:
The purpose of TTC-35 is: To improve the international, interstate, and intrastate movement of goods and people; address the anticipated transportation needs of Texas from the Texas/Oklahoma state line to the Texas/Mexico border and/or Texas Gulf Coast along the I-35 corridor for the next 20 to 50 years; and, sustain and enhance the economic vitality of the State of Texas. (EIS Executive Summary, page ES-3)
An artist's rendition presented in the EIS showed what the full build-out would look like.

Expanding beyond the I-35 corridor, TxDOT plans to build a network of super-corridor highways throughout Texas.

The plans ultimately call for building some 4,000 miles of highway-railway-utility super-corridors throughout Texas over the next 50 years, using some 584,000 acres of what is now Texas farm and ranchland, at an estimated cost of $184 billion. Since a corridor nearly a quarter-mile in width will be difficult to cross, these super-corridors are envisioned to virtually divide the land through which they pass. The design calls for TTCs to route around cities, leaving intra-city transport largely to the existing network of limited access interstate highways. These TTC toll-road super-corridors will function primarily to facilitate international trade and secondarily to serve as alternative routes for those inter-city private travelers willing and able to pay the added toll cost.

The design of the NAFTA Super Corridor calls for the border crossing at Laredo to be no more than a speed-bump. Already, the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America working committees organized within the Department of Commerce have determined that Mexican trucks traveling in FAST lanes will typically be screened only by SENTRI system electronic checks. The first customs stop is a Mexican customs stop that is being built in Kansas City at a cost of $3 million to U.S. taxpayers. A brochure on the website of Kansas City's Smart Port describes the ultimate goal to bring containers from the Far East and China into Mexican ports, such as Lazaro Cardenas, bypassing the Longshoremen's union in the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, and to transport the containers via Mexican railroads and trucks into the U.S. over the NAFTA Super Corridor, bypassing the United Transportation Union and the Teamsters.

TxDOT is planning on holding public hearings on TTC-35 beginning in July 2006. Yet, from examining the agenda of the public hearings, the focus seems more aimed at modifying routes and expressing concerns about design. With a signed contract in place with Cintra-Zachry and with money having been accepted by TxDOT for building the road, stopping the road at this point does not seem to be a question that the TxDOT considers on the table. Comments at the public hearings may modify design issues, but from every indication, construction of TTC-35 is scheduled to begin in 2007.

After the Kelo et al. v. City of New London by the U.S. Supreme Court on June 23, 2005, TxDOT will not have to worry about obtaining whatever 584,000 acres would be needed to build a 4,000 mile network of the TTC super-highways. Kelo determined that a governmental entity could exercise eminent domain to force private property owners to sell their land for economic development, even if the development envisioned were to be undertaken by a private entity, such as the Cintra-Zachry limited partnership.

Mr. Corsi is the author of several books, including "Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry" (along with John O'Neill), "Black Gold Stranglehold: The Myth of Scarcity and the Politics of Oil" (along with Craig R. Smith), and "Atomic Iran: How the Terrorist Regime Bought the Bomb and American Politicians." He is a frequent guest on the G. Gordon Liddy radio show. He will soon co-author a new book with Jim Gilchrist on the Minuteman Project.

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