Texas project may have lessons for us

Thursday, December 30, 2004

One thing about Texas, they know how to do things big. The latest is the Trans-Texas Corridor project, a $175 billion, 50 year project financed mostly, if not entirely with private money.

The corridor would include megahighways, up to a quarter-mile wide, with six lanes for cars, four for trucks, railroad tracks, oil and gas pipelines, water and utility lines, and even broadband transmission cables.

Instead of relying on federal funding and gasoline taxes, the massive project would rely on tolls and other private funding.

Proponents say the project would handle the massive NAFTA boom in goods to and from Mexico, and allow freight haulers to skirt heavy-traffic urban areas on a straight-shot rural highway.

The corridor will lure new industry, allow better, faster and cheaper shipping, and isolate hazardous materials that are now being hauled through the center of cities. Because of private funding, it can be built much more quickly than taxpayers could afford, say proponents.

As a pilot project, Texas is negotiating with a Spanish consortium to build a $7.5 billion, 800-mile corridor from Oklahoma to Mexico and run parallel to Interstate 35.

There is opposition, of course.

Environmentalists and farmers worry about the effects on the countryside, towns and cities worry about losing current traffic. The Republican Party platform opposes it because of property rights.

Will the Trans-Texas Corridor project be a boon to the economy or just a boondoggle? Only time will tell.

But there were probably skeptics when the interstate highway system was first proposed back in the Eisenhower administration -- enough that the project had to be sold to Congress as a national defense project in those Cold War years.

Who knows how much traffic NAFTA will generate over the next half century. Will continental trade continue to rely on rail and trucks, or will some other form of transportation take over? Will the economy even depend on goods that have to be shipped, or will we move even deeper into the information age?

We can't know the answers. But in the 1950s, who would have imagined fiber optics and the instant communications of the Internet?

Located on Highway 83, McCook is in a prime location to share in some of the trade proponents of the Texas project envision. We need to keep a close eye on the big state to the south, learn from its successes and failures, and incorporate the lessons into our own preparations for the future.

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