Ports-to-plains corridor is on a roll
Any farmer from a rural western town knows a thing or two about self-reliance and hope. The endless sweeping vistas are a simple reminder that it’s a long way to a market.
A general lack of opportunity forces many to search for sunshine on their shoulders in other parts of the U.S., but that is starting to change. The wild west is getting restless again on the coat tails of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the energy boom and a consensus in Washington that we need to address our nation’s aging infrastructure.
The ports-to-plains trade corridor (PPTC), a boots-and-18-wheeler version of Asia’s Silk Road, comprises three major two- and four-lane expressways running north and south. Hooked together, they form a 2,333-mile trade route from Laredo, Texas, to Canada at the Port of Raymond in Montana.
Where transportation leads, investments and prosperity soon follow, says Joe Kiely, vice president of operations for the Ports-to-Plains Alliance, a bipartisan nonprofit organization that promotes policy, trade and investment priorities in the PPTC.
"When we looked at the economics and what moves along that corridor, we saw that energy and agriculture were the major products," says Kiely, who oversees the Heartland Expressway, which runs from Limon and Denver, Colo., to Rapid City, S.D.
The $105 billion transportation bill signed into law in July, an extension of the bill passed in 2005, provides two years of funding for corridor projects. This should benefit PPTC roadways from Texas to Montana by widening highways and adding passing and entry lanes in congested traffic areas such as North Dakota’s oil fields.
Kiely says the goal is to have four lanes running the full length of the corridor: one safe and smooth expressway to carry petroleum, gas and agricultural products from Mexico to Canada.
It was NAFTA’s promise of open enterprise, free of regulations, and the success of a trade corridor segment of I-35 that runs from Laredo to Oklahoma City that created the impetus for a north-south trade route, according to Michael Reeves, president of the Ports-to-Plains Alliance. NAFTA’s north-south trade orientation created a catch-up situation. "Most of the interstate [highway] system was built east-west, so there was a lack of north-south corridors, especially in the western part of the continent."
NAFTA imports and exports for Canada, the U.S. and Mexico have steadily climbed. In 18 years, the U.S, has more than tripled exports to its trade partners. That means a lot more trucks on the roads and railcars on the tracks.
"NAFTA has been a large benefit for Texas producers," says Steelee Fischbacher of Texas Wheat Producers. "We export half of the wheat we grow in Texas, and building that export demand provides a boost in farm prices."
Steve Mercer of U.S. Wheat Associates agrees. "Mexico is consistently one of our bigger customers. The U.S. exports an awful lot of wheat into Mexico via rail, which is a very efficient way to move wheat from one NAFTA country to another." Average sales to Mexico run 2.8 million metric tons per year, he adds.
- December 2012