HOUSTON OF ALL PLACES IS SHOWING ITS LACK OF PRIORITIES IN SNAGGING $350 MILLION IN GAS TAXES TO SUBSIDIZE A TOLL ROAD.
By Terri Hall l May 1, 2012
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, along with Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), are determined to pass a multiyear federal highway bill. With the appointment of House and Senate conferees last week, there’s renewed hope among the state departments of transportation that Congress may be able to pass a transportation reauthorization bill during this election year.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reed (D-NV) appointed 14 senators – eight Democrats and six Republicans, while House Speaker Boehner appointed 33 representatives – 20 Republicans and 13 Democrats, with formal negotiations to begin on May 8.
The House passed two 90-day extensions to the current federal highway program known as SAFETEA-LU, one on March 29, H.R. 4281, a clean extension that expires on June 30 and another on April 18, H.R. 4348, leading to the 10th extension of the current authorization, which helped set up the conference with the Senate. This second extension, the Surface Transportation Act Part II, introduces environmental ‘streamlining’ measures, accelerates approval for TransCanada’s Keystone XL Pipeline, and includes some language from Chairman John Mica’s five year House bill, H.R. 7, the American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act, all of which is to be reconciled with the Senate’s surface transportation bill, S. 1813, the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act, or MAP-21.
MAP-21, which previously passed the Senate as a $109 billion two year bill, paved the way for the one remaining Interstate Highway, yet to be built in America, to be completed as a trade corridor. I-69, currently identified as high priority corridors 18 & 20 on the National Highway System, was identified by the U.S. Department of Transportation in 2007 as a “Corridor of the Future” – meaning a 2,680 mile international and interstate trade corridor extending from Mexico through the United States into Canada, consisting of 32 segments.
However, I-69 won’t be built as an interstate freeway, as have all the previous highways within the pay-as-you-go Interstate Highway System initiated under President Eisehnower. Instead, the Senate bill, MAP-21, has ensured it will be built as a foreign-owned tollway using public-private partnership (P3) financing due to the structural shortfall in traditional road funding encompassed within the bill, as well as the reliance on tolling to make-up the shortfall. I-69 will be constructed as a part of a larger NAFTA Superhighway Trade Corridor and Toll Road System extending from Laredo, Texas to Port Huron, Michigan, in what clearly has become the post-Interstate freeway era.
While the general public was widely aware of the coming interstate freeway system during the mid-1950s initiated under President Eisenhower, the elite in government over the past two decades, including Congress, the White House and the Department of Transportation, have kept the advent of the ‘Intermodal trade corridor era,’ started under President George H.W. Bush in the 1980s and continued by each of his successors under the radar, with a general public and news media largely ignorant and uninformed.
Does it have ta be NAFTA?
But there’s been much ado about NAFTA superhighways in the border state of Texas ever since Governor Rick Perry made them the central plank of his transportation platform, when he stepped into the Governor’s mansion after George W. Bush became President in 2000.
In 2001, Perry already had a pivotal Constitutional Amendment on the ballot in Texas that ended the State’s pay-as-you-go system and opened the door to debt financing. It also paved the way for the Texas legs of the NAFTA Superhighway, known as the Trans-Texas Corridor, to be built.
By 2003, the foundation was in place for passage of a loaded Omnibus highway bill (the sort no lawmaker actually reads), HB 3588, that created the Trans-Texas Corridor (TTC) in statute along with the state’s coercive quick-take eminent domain powers and a major shift to tolling everything that moves, using massive public debt. The 2006 federal highway bill, SAFTEA-LU, created the blueprint for the national push of the controversial new ‘innovative’ financing tools and the sale of America’s transportation infrastructure to private entities. SAFTEA-LU also relied on public debt through the federal ‘Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act of 1998’ or the TIFIA loan program to build roads, most of which would benefit private special interests through P3 financing arrangements.
Given the two House passed 90-day extensions, Congress has until September 30 to work out the differences between the Senate’s MAP-21 and H.R. 4348. The House and Senate are worlds apart except for one thing – the reliance on tolling through these so-called ‘innovative financing’ tools – the TIFIA loan program and P3s. In MAP-21, Texas scored big by securing an increase in its rate of return of federal gas tax revenues from 92 to 95 percent. But that won’t be near enough to bridge the gap in their roads and highways wish-list versus the available funds to build them.
MAP-21 is also chock full of big daddy government, including UN Agenda 21-style provisions, like mandating black boxes be installed in ALL vehicles from 2015 forward (found in Section 31406). This will open the floodgates to government tracking of private citizens, as well as mandating vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communications – a blueprint for connecting vehicles and infrastructure together using wireless technology that could eventually be used to dictate actual travel patterns and to charge motorists road taxes by the mile. The Senate bill also grants the IRS the ability to revoke passports (hence inhibit the freedom to travel) of anyone it deems a tax cheat.
Killing the beast they say is already dead
The public backlash to debt financing, foreign-owned toll roads, and these NAFTA superhighway trade corridors has been swift and sure, at least in Texas. But most national politicians refuse to get the message. When 28,000 Texans put their opposition on the record against Trans-Texas Corridor route TTC-69/I-69 in 2008, the Lone Star State politicians swung into action to try to convince Texans that the TTC was DEAD; but it was dead in name only.
Lawmakers failed to repeal it during the 80th session of the Texas Legislature in 2009, and even tried to grandfather the TTC under a different name in a bill that eventually died (due to a fight over a local option gas tax). Though grassroots Texans managed to achieve a total repeal of the Trans-Texas Corridor from state statute in 2011, the TTC routes live on as the ‘Innovative Connectivity Plan’ through P3s in Texas, thanks to Governor Rick Perry’s slight-of-hand. But one standout against P3s, is Georgia Governor Nathan Deal, who learned the hard way over the I-85 High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lane snafu, that the public will not go quietly into the night. He pulled the plug on Georgia’s P3 program earlier this year calling P3s an “ill-conceived sell-out of state sovereignty.” He’s exactly right. P3s virtually ensure that the international trade corridors or NAFTA superhighways will be completed.
MAP-21’s TIFIA expansion from $122 million per year to $1 billion per year will give states the ability to fund the NAFTA superhighways beyond just I-69. It’s no surprise Texas leads the nation in TIFIA awards since there are seven (7) NAFTA trade corridor routes crossing the Texas border from Mexico’s Pacific ports into the United States, including the old TTC routes. There are three primary border entry points in Texas alone that extend north into Canada containing those seven trade corridors: El Paso – Camino Real and Spirit; Presidio – La Entrada; and Laredo – Ports-to-Plains, TTC/I-35, Gulf Crescent, and TTC/I-69.
These trade corridors ultimately are to connect the United States with Canada and Mexico – to fulfill the purpose and vision of NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement as envisioned by Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. Though the many special interests who will benefit from them have found an easy ‘in’ with Texas politicians, the push certainly isn’t limited to Texas. There’s a battle raging in Michigan over whether a competing bridge at an international border crossing into Canada will be built.
Currently, a private toll bridge, the Ambassdor Bridge, enjoys a monopoly over commercial truck traffic in the area and its owner, Manuel Moroun, is fighting off competition by the Michigan and Canadian governments who are contemplating building a public toll bridge nearby. Dubbed the Detroit International Trade Crossing, fed by the I-75 trade corridor out of Florida, the public toll bridge would require $1 billion in public financing to get it built. It would no doubt receive TIFIA loans considering a similar project is on the short-list to receive a TIFIA loan to replace the Gerald Desmond Bridge at the Port of Long Beach in California, which also boasts a price tag of nearly $1 billion and is fed by the I-5 Baja-to-British Columbia trade corridor.
A bill like MAP-21 signed into law would assure the completion of the NAFTA Superhighway Trade Corridor and Toll Road System over the coming decade bringing America that much closer to economic and political integration with Canada and Mexico in a North American Union, not unlike the socialist European Union. Killing these anti-sovereignty, anti-freedom, and anti-taxpayer provisions in MAP-21 is a must, if we’re to preserve what’s left of our national sovereignty and freedom to travel.
Terri Hall is the founder of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF), which defends against eminent domain abuse and promotes non-toll transportation solutions. She’s a home school mother of eight turned citizen activist. Ms. Hall is also a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis.
Terri Hall is the founder of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF), which defends against eminent domain abuse and promotes non-toll transportation solutions. She’s a home school mother of eight turned citizen activist. Ms. Hall is also a contributor to