Testimony of Congressman Randy Neugebauer
Texas Congressional District 19
United States Senate
Committee on the Environment and Public Works
Thank you for the opportunity to present testimony before this Committee and its esteemed Chairman. As the founding Chairman of the Ports-To-Plains Trade Corridor Coalition I feel that I may be uniquely qualified to submit testimony on the issues before you today.
The United States is a young country that is continually developing its infrastructure. The Ports-to-Plains Trade Corridor is a visionary approach to investing in our future by providing access and improving safety for rural communities located in the central part of the United States.
In 1997, the City Council of Lubbock, Texas set a lofty goal. They decided to pursue the designation of a National High Priority Corridor (a NAFTA Corridor) that would serve the Central United States with a North / South trade route from Mexico to Canada. In 1998 the Coalition was organized along IH-27 with 12 member communities. They adopted this mission statement:
The Ports-to-Plains Trade Corridor is an uninterrupted multi-lane divided highway that will transport goods and people from Mexico and the Border Region through West Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Colorado, and ultimately Canada and the Pacific Northwest.
In five short but very eventful years, Ports-To-Plains has grown to over 70 members including businesses, cities, counties, chambers, economic development groups, colleges, universities, and individuals along the route. And together they have accomplished phenomenal results.
In 1998, the City of Lubbock, on behalf of the Ports-to-Plains Corridor commissioned a feasibility study to:
•Analyze trade and transportation issues together
•Determine if a case can be made to support a Ports-to-Plains Corridor
•Recommend specific Corridor routes
This was the first time a study had been conducted along the corridor that analyzed trade and transportation issues together. They found that the route was feasible based on international trade, traffic, existing roadway conditions and on existing regional support.
In order to have trade you must first produce something to sell. Since 1990 the Gross Domestic Product of the NAFTA trading partners has grown significantly. The U.S. GDP has grown 5.7% per year. Canada ‘s GDP has grown at a respectable 2.6% per year while Mexico’s has grown at an incredible rate of 9.1% per year. With this type of output available and NAFTA in place the trade of the three partners has significantly outpaced all other international trade. Between 1994 and 2000 International trade grew at an average rate of 8% per year. NAFTA trade grew at an average rate of 11% per year. During the same time frame U.S. trade with Canada grew at a rate of 8.9% per year with trade between the U.S. and Mexico growing at an incredible pace of 16% per year.
The following illustration represents a growth rate just 13% per year projected out to the year 2010.
The result will be 400% growth in trade (and traffic) by the tear 2010. That is just 7 years away.
Any way you measure it, 70% of this trade will travel by truck. All modes of transportation will struggle to keep pace with the demand. Truck transportation is able to adjust more quickly than others BUT the roads and highways they travel are not keeping pace with the demand. The next graph illustrates the distribution trade traffic among the different modes available.
Since 1994 truck crossings in at Texas border stations are up 250%. Since 1990 commercial mileage in Texas is up 37%. Texas corridors carry up to 90% of U.S. / Mexico truck trade.
The Ports-To-Plains corridor is well positioned to take advantage of this opportunity by offering a far less congested route that connects Texas to far less congested border crossings at Del Rio and Eagle Pass. The infrastructure of Coahuila, Mexico is being improved rapidly to connect to these border crossings to try and alleviate the current congestion being felt at other border stations.
In 2001 the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) completed a Route Identification Study that further served to clarify the best route for the Ports-To-Plains Corridor. The final route designated by Congress is represented by the following map:
This route was chosen for several reasons. Chief among them were the significant miles of four-lane highway already in place. Roughly 50% of the 1200 + mile route is already multi-lane divided highway. This is basically represented by the “heart” of the route from San Angelo north to Stratford. This route is unimpeded by air quality problems and dollars invested go further in construction than in more congested parts of the state.
With over 70 diversified member organizations it is easy to see why Ports-To-Plains has been able to garner significant support to address the issues at hand. They have successfully pursued three significant federal legislative efforts resulting their final designation as NHP Corridor #38. They have pursued and won inclusion in Unified Transportation Plans (UTPs) in Texas, Colorado, Oklahoma, and New Mexico. They have also successfully pursued legislative efforts in Texas that will result in increased transportation funding for the entire state.
The membership has accomplished a great deal with a great deal of help from federal, state and local officials. The pieces of our highway puzzle are falling into place. Here is a partial listing of those highlights:
Not only do the Coalition members cooperate well with each other, the organization has established a reputation for leading cooperative efforts with other transportation coalitions such as Spirit 54, La Entrada al Pacifico, and TEX-21. All of the transportation corridors of Texas desperately need infrastructure improvements if the state is going to be able to keep pace with transportation growth demand.
Ports-To-Plains has also joined forces in a cooperative venture with two additional multi-state corridor coalitions in an effort to truly join the NAFTA trading partners “at the hip” in the Great Plains Region. The Heartland Express (NHP#14) and the Theodore Roosevelt Expressway are working with Ports-To-Plains to establish the Great Plains International Trade Corridor. The following map represents this multi-lateral effort:
To complete the package the Ports-To-Plains Coalition is scheduled to make a presentation in September to a transportation conference in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan Canada. We are also scheduled to meet with the Governor of Coahuila, Mexico in September. Both meetings are designed to begin the process of designating the trade route in their respective countries.
Since this country was founded, two elements have been crucial in ensuring its growth and survival. Those two elements are trade and transportation. These two interchangeable entities involved not only the exchange of goods and services, but also that of information and culture. The Ports-to-Plains Coalition understands the urgency to improve transportation and to establish better trading patterns. There membership is striving to achieve this goal.
The Ports-to-Plains Trade Corridor is a link to international and domestic trade markets as well as to the future economies of the United States, Mexico, and Canada. The Corridor will connect existing roads, develop intersections, and construct new portions of highway. According to the Texas Department of Transportation, the route will serve more than 5 million people.
From a business perspective, the Ports-to-Plains Trade Corridor is an investment in economic development for member organizations. In addition, agricultural industries will see increased returns from the route due to the strong agricultural ties with communities along the Corridor. Raw commodities and heavy industrial equipment will be transported easier and at higher profitability for both producers and freight carriers. In addition, the Ports-to-Plains route will increase opportunities to further develop less-congested ports of entry along the Texas / Mexico border.
The development of the Corridor, utilizing I-27, will provide alternate trucking routes around developed areas and congested corridors in metropolitan areas suffering major air quality problems. The Ports-to-Plains Corridor will connect to less congested ports of entry on the Texas / Mexico border. It also will allow the rural and urban principle arterial routes to serve as a gateway for major ports, airports, international border crossings, public transportation facilities and intermodal transportation facilities serving interstate and inter-regional travel.
Through the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA 21), the Ports-to-Plains Trade Corridor has been designated a high priority corridor. This makes the route eligible for federal funds designated for the coordinated planning, design, and construction of corridors of national significance, economic growth and international or inter-regional trade. The entire Ports-to-Plains route is on the National Highway System and the Texas Trunk System and more than 50 percent of the route is already a four-lane divided facility.
When you talk to any business executive looking to relocate their company, you invariably hear the same question: Does your area have the infrastructure to support our needs through good distribution routes? If you can answer yes, businesses will locate to your city so they can have access to major highways.
This highway corridor through the heart of America via Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Colorado has the potential to enhance economic opportunities in those states. The Ports-to-Plains Corridor offers an opportunity to target an underdeveloped part of the country by focusing on balanced growth. Also, the Corridor presents an opportunity to develop new border crossings with Del Rio and Eagle Pass, Texas, while still connecting to the border crossing in Laredo. With its proximity to other interstates and existing national highways, the Corridor opens a sorely needed North / South route that currently does not exist in the region.
Local governments and private organizations along the route have committed over a million dollars to the Ports-to-Plains Trade Corridor Coalition. They are putting their money where their needs are and making an investment in their future.
Today, with increased membership and support from member organizations, state and federal funding, and legislative support, all signs point to success for the Ports-to-Plains Trade Corridor
What was once a modest dream shared by a handful of business people and politicians has now evolved into an international project with a full-time staff and a board of directors. The 19-member Board of Directors is made up from member communities all along this great highway. Working together the Coalition has had great accomplishments BUT there is still so much to do. The Coalition’s strategic plan calls for focus on the following efforts:
As far as U.S. trade with Mexico is concerned “all roads lead to Texas”. In a very real sense this situation is critical. As illustrated by this map, over 80% of this trade traverses Texas highways.
NAFTA Trade Patterns
NAFTA Trade Patterns
Along with the NAFTA demand for transportation services there have been many more issues that impact the need for transportation funding. Among these are population growth, demographic shifts, and increased mobility. Since 1970 the U.S. population has grown by more than 35%. The Texas population has grown by more than 100%and is expected to grow by at least another 50% by 2025. Licensed drivers have increased by 62% and licensed vehicles have increased by 90%. During the same time frame total miles driven has increased by 132%. Our infrastructure development is falling behind fast. Since 1970 our highway capacity has only increased by 15%.
If we are to meet the challenges ahead we must find a
way to significantly accelerate transportation construction in this
region. Traditionally, funding of
highways has been based on traffic counts, engineering studies, and federal
requirements. However, with a new focus
on corridor extensions being proposed by TxDOT, a new kind of thinking has
emerged, the kind of thinking that will shape the demographics of this
state. We will be able to position
Texas with a transportation system that will help the economy grow. We realize
long term transportation planning and implementation determines the regions
that will be populated in the future while creating economic development opportunities.
With this in mind, rural areas of the state should be ensured access to
transportation facilities that assist in their growth and development.
Investing in expansion of four-lane divided highways would provide a more efficient road system for Texas and develop opportunities for growth of rural areas. The Ports-to-Plains corridor is one example of the tremendous potential for expansion and growth opportunities. With its proximity to other interstates and the existing national highways already in place, the Ports-to-Plains initiative could prove to be an economic development engine for the Western portion of Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and the Eastern Plains of Colorado.
We think TxDot’s concept of focusing on completing corridors is very timely considering the impact trade is having and will continue to have on Texas roads. We particularly like the improvements planned along the Ports-to-Plains Corridor route. NAFTA has played a major role. With this in mind, the Ports-to-Plains corridor should position itself now for economic opportunities in the future. Coordination between transportation investments and local and regional economic development and trade related goals will help ensure that Texas, Oklahoma and Colorado remain competitive as states vie for capital investments and jobs to keep up with growth patterns brought on by a healthy economy and the continued increase in trade. We need to view transportation strategically and place ourselves in the best position to trade on a global level. West Texas needs sound infrastructure and good distribution routes in order to respond to current and future demands. Accessibility for businesses to be able to transport goods between markets, producer, and distributors is essential in today’s market place.
Taking advantage of trade opportunities will require corridor alternatives and non-traditional project criteria. We need to look beyond our borders and serve as the gateway for international trade.
ISTEA and TEA-21 both represented significant positive steps for transportation infrastructure funding in this country. With the enormous impact of NAFTA and demographic shifting much more is needed soon. The bottleneck created by increased trade at the busiest border crossings has made investment in less congested border stations a necessity.
The Ports-to-Plains Trade Corridor runs through one of the largest agricultural regions in the United States and the World. Today, the vast majority of the state’s raw agricultural products – from cotton to cattle – are prepared for sale or consumption in retail markets outside the state. There is an ever-increasing need to ship products from this agricultural region to various markets throughout the United States and abroad. The Ports-to-Plains Trade Corridor will serve as a catalyst to develop this under served area of our country. It will ensure that our farmers, ranchers, and businesses have a direct route to ship their goods.
The Ports to Plains Corridor is strategically positioned to take advantage of national and international commerce. There is room to grow along the corridor because of a lack of congestion as compared to other heavily congested corridors. This corridor is a true gateway to the nation and the rest of the United States.
Benjamin Franklin said trade never hurt a nation. The same cannot be said for those areas that have to endure long wait times as congestion continues to weigh heavy in the urban parts of other corridors. This is a major concern in Texas and other states on other corridors that are experiencing problems with bottlenecks along major arteries.
Transportation is the cornerstone of any economy. Transportation infrastructure is crucial to our communities and it is an integral part of developing an economic engine. The Ports-to-Plains Corridor goes through some of the largest commodity producing areas of the country. We are building our corridor in a series of routes. Being able to tie our regions together is important in moving goods from its origin to the final destination points. We have worked well with other corridors and learned that the key to success is to connect to other existing routes that can enhance opportunities along the main route.
Because about 80% of all truck and rail traffic goes through Texas and places a disproportionate weight on Texans, we need more funding from the federal level. The benefit will touch the state of Texas and other states that connect to our route.
Mr. Chairman, I thank you and I appreciate the opportunity you’ve given me to present this information. The Ports-to-Plains Trade Corridor is a project that I, and many others, have worked hard on through the years. As we develop this route and link to other states, we will develop the backbone for increased trade in Texas and for the nation.