Ghost Road

| May 16, 2007

“About 45 percent of all Texans live within 50 miles of I-35,” says Garcia. “That’s quite a bit of the population. Anybody who drives I-35 will tell you it’s congested any time of the day.”

Businesses situated along the frontage road make widening the interstate in many places cost-prohibitive for the DOT and financially burdensome for communities along the route. A relief route like TTC-35, backers say, is the answer.

Garcia stresses that approval to even begin the project could be as much as a decade away. “Each of the environmental studies, tier one and tier two, takes two to five years, depending on the study,” she says. “Nothing is done overnight, no decisions are made behind closed doors – we’ve had three or four rounds of public meetings.”

“NAFTA Superhighway” was a buzz-phrase in some congressional races last year and not just in Texas, where Governor Rick Perry won after being beat over the head with the TTC issue in a three-way race (he garnered only 39 percent of the vote). In Kansas perennial 2nd district congressional challenger Nancy Boyda beat incumbent Jim Ryun after invoking the TTC as a precursor to a 10-lane NAFTA superhighway to blaze across Kansas in the near future.

But the future is hard to predict. It’s at least clear that the issues surrounding the TTC cannot be reduced to only local concerns. Whether or not something called the NAFTA Superhighway exists today or even in 30 years, the future will see only more need for efficient shipping lanes for international trade.

Laredo is the United States’ busiest southern border crossing in trade terms. Truck trade at the Laredo border has more than doubled since NAFTA went into effect in 1994. In 2005, according to the federal Bureau of Transportation Statistics, 1,455,607 trucks crossed at Laredo, more than twice the number coming through the next closest southern port of entry at El Paso. The total value of NAFTA trade through Laredo stood at $93.7 billion.

Meanwhile, the port at Los Angeles/ Long Beach is bearing the brunt of the marked increase of Asian exports to the United States and vice versa in recent years thanks to China’s economic boom, and it suffers from extreme congestion.

NASCO and other corridor groups see the development of multimodal corridors extending from Laredo on both sides of the border as connections for United States/Canada- or Asia-bound goods landing at (or departing from) Mexican deep-water ports before making their way north by truck or rail (or east by ship).

Federal Highway Administration Public Affairs Officer Doug Hecox, speaking of forward-looking highway projects like the TTC, says, “We might not be around to see these. They’re ‘next generation’ in the most liberal sense. It’s nice that somebody’s looking at all the possibilities, and we’re very supportive of the process.”

Does this constitute a secret cabal attempting to destroy the American state?

Trucker Richard Skoglund doesn’t think so. Both the TTC project and the specter of the NAFTA Superhighway bring to his mind simply “something that is going to be very expensive to drive on.” The Arizona-based driver for North Carolina’s Davis Trucking says truckers won’t choose to pay for any toll-laden vision.

Skoglund predicts a “big ghost road” in the Year of Glad. “The future of tollways is here already,” he says, referencing the partial beltway outside Denver, though the E-470, completed in 2003 and circling metro Denver’s eastern side, is a product of pre-ISTEA practices. A trip along the entirety of its 56 miles for a tractor-trailer costs a whopping $47. “You’re barely making that much in the truck,” says Skoglund. “Nobody I know takes it.”

Mexican Customs Goes to Kansas City
Last year, KC SmartPort, a Kansas City, Mo.-based nonprofit pooling the interests of trucking companies, rail carriers, government leaders and others dedicated to promoting Kansas City as an “inland port” on the I-35 corridor, received a torrent of abuse from critics.

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