Making Trade Routes

Article excerpt

With one trophy nailed to its wall, North America's Superhighway Coalition, formerly known as the I-35 Corridor Coalition, is ready to start the next phase -- improving Interstate 35 and its main tributaries into an international trade route.

In the $216 billion 1997 transportation bill, called Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (or TEA 21), passed late last month, Congress allocated $700 million for a new category of highways, international trade routes. This has been one of the coalition's objectives since its inception in early 1994. Now, the U.S. Department of Transportation must write rules and regulations on how to divvy up the money among competing corridor coalitions.

The lion's share of that money is expected to flow toward the I- 35 corridor, primarily because "we already have the right of way and we have the infrastructure in place," said Oklahoma State Sen. Keith Leftwich, D-Oklahoma City and president of North America's Superhighway Coalition. "We are so far ahead of the others, that what we have done may become the model the U.S. DOT uses when it writes the rules and regulations," Leftwich said. While the public-private coalition has been busy celebrating passage of the bill, the work is not completed, Leftwich said. "Obviously we now are at a crossroads," he said. "We can either say we have accomplished our goal, creating this new category of highways, and disband, or we can continue as we have planned and look at the big picture. "My feelings are that we should continue to work and look at the big picture. We have no direct authority, but we do have the ability to coordinate and resolve disputes, to use our credibility to protect the interests of the states and the regions." Coordination is extremely important along the line because "a bottleneck in Kansas City is important to people in Oklahoma City and a bad bridge in Ardmore is important to people in Des Moines," he said. North America's Superhighway Coalition has evolved from the I-35 Corridor Coalition formed by 12 counties and five cities in Texas. Oklahoma -- prompted by Leftwich -- was the first state to formally join the coalition. Others include Iowa, Kansas and Missouri in the United States, the province of Manitoba and the city of Winnipeg in Canada, The Ambassador Bridge in Detroit, the Detroit International Bridge Co., the Canadian Transit Co., Love's Country Stores based in Oklahoma City, Frozen Foods Express Industries, Enserch, Bexar Metro Water District, Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, Lone Star Gas, Trinity Industries, Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce, International Band of Commerce and Alliance Development Co. Fighting for position It's not known when new rules and regulations will be written or when money for improving the highway -- that is I-35 and connecting trade corridors, interstates, 29, 44, 80 and 94 -- will be available. "That's still up in the air right now," Leftwich said. With passage of the new category of highways, the next phase for the coalition is to "continue promoting this region for a while and keep an eye on what's going on," he said. …