Controversy Erupts Over NASCO and the NAFTA Super-Highway

Last Thursday in a radio interview with the 55KRC Morning Show in Cincinnati, Tiffany Melvin, executive director of North America’s SuperCorridor Coalition, told host Jerry Thomas that my June 12 Human Events article on NASCO was “absolutely inaccurate.”

Melvin declined to be interviewed for this article, stating in an e-mail her current priority was to answer the “accusations, bad information, and false assumptions” in the June 12 article. “After I have a chance to get my life back and return to a normal schedule, I will contact you,” she wrote. “In the meantime, I will continue to respond to the inquiries your erroneous reporting has caused.”

What is NASCO? It is a non-profit 501c6 organization that functions as a trade association and sometimes lobbying group for the public and private entities that are members. NASCO is an acronym for North America’s SuperCorridor Coalition, which is the official title of the organization. According to the group’s website, NASCO is “dedicated to developing the world’s first international, integrated and secure, multi-modal transportation system along the International Mid-Continent Trade and Transportation Corridor to improve both the trade competitiveness and quality of life in North America.”

Specifically, NASCO supports the corridor that encompasses Interstate Highways 35, 29 and 94, and “the significant east/west connectors to those highways in Canada, the United States, and Mexico.” That NASCO is organized around promoting NAFTA trade is obvious. Again, as stated by the group’s website:

From the largest border crossing in North America (The Ambassador Bridge in Detroit, Michigan and Windsor, Canada), to the second largest border crossing of Laredo, Texas and Neuvo Laredo, Mexico, extending to the deep water Ports of Manzanillo and Lazaro Cardenas, Mexico and to Manitoba, Canada, the impressive, tri-national NASCO membership truly reflects the international scope of the Corridor and the regions it impacts. (Emphasis in original.)

From an industry perspective, NASCO is one of the organizations supporting various north-south corridors identified to facilitate NAFTA trade. NASCO has absorbed the former North American International Trade Corridor Partnership, a non-profit group organized in Mexico with similar goals of internationalizing U.S. highways into a NAFTA structure to facilitate trade with Mexico and Canada. The North American Inland Port Network (NAIPN) is also listed as a NASCO partner. NAIPN functions as a NASCO sub-committee to develop “inland ports” along the highway corridors “to specifically alleviate congestion at maritime ports and our nation’s borders.”

To get a feel of the NAFTA corridor movement, we also reference CANAMEX, a trade organization that promotes a Western tri-lateral route utilizing I-19, I-10, I-93 and I-15 in the states of Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Idaho and Montana to link the three countries in trade. Another non-profit group, the North American Forum on Integration (NAFI), identifies four bands of NAFTA corridors (Pacific, West, East and Atlantic), all relying primarily upon internationalizing north-south existing interstate highways into NAFTA trade corridors.

One of Melvin’s main bones of contention was that NASCO did not stand for the building the NASCO corridor into a Trans-Texas Corridor-type super-highway. “NASCO is working on existing infrastructure,” Melvin told 55KRC. Yet, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) is a NASCO member and NASCO supports the Trans-Texas Corridor as part of that relationship. Melvin’s e-mail stated:

The Trans-Texas Corridor is not a NASCO initiative. We support the project in Texas, as it solves critical funding problems and congestion IN TEXAS. I know of NO plans to extend it into additional states. It is not the first section of a NAFTA SuperHighway. It is not ready to begin construction next year.

According to the 4,000-page draft environmental impact statement, the plan is to build a 4,000-mile network of new super-highways that will be “up to 1,200 feet wide (at full build-out) with separate lanes for passenger vehicles (three in each direction) and trucks (two in each direction), six rail lines (separate lines in each direction for high-speed rail, commuter rail, and freight rail), and a 200-foot wide utility corridor.”

On March 11, 2005, TxDOT signed a definitive agreement with Cintra Zachry, a limited partnership formed by Cintra Concesiones de Infraestructures de Transport in Spain and the San Antonio-based Zachry Construction Co. “to develop the Oklahoma to Mexico/Gulf Coast element of the Trans-Texas Corridor (TTC-35). This agreement calls for the Cintra-Zachry limited partnership to pay Texas $1.2 billion “for the long-term right to build and operate the initial segment as a toll facility.” The initial TTC-35 segment is scheduled to be built roughly parallel to I-35 between Dallas and San Antonio. The final public hearings are scheduled in Texas for July and August. While construction contracts have yet to be finalized, Cintra-Zachry presumably holds those rights as a result of the $1.2 billion payment to Texas, as described in the March 11, 2005, contract. The timeline published on the Trans-Texas Corridor website envisions final federal approval by the summer of 2007, with the construction of the first TTC-35 segment to follow immediately afterward.

In regard to whether NASCO intends to rely only on existing interstate highway infrastructure, the NASCO statement of purpose cited above calls for building “the world’s first international, integrated and secure, multi-modal transportation system.” The TTC-35 project is the first super-highway project in the U.S. proceeding to incorporate railroad as part of the design, producing a truly “integrated” and “multi-modal” highway-railroad system.

Do other states plan to build TTC like roads? Most states today are strapped for cash even to maintain existing highways. Still, the investment banking and international capital pools that put together the TTC project are certain to want to apply the model to additional states along the I-35 corridor. I would also note that Cintra-Zachry is unlikely to be building TTC-35 with the idea that the four-football-fields-wide super-highway just ends at the Oklahoma border. Once the investment bankers have the deal sealed in Texas, the TTC plan and funding are certain to be taken to many other states, including Oklahoma and Kansas.

The city of Kansas City, Mo., and the Kansas City SmartPort are both listed on the NASCO website as NASCO members. The Kansas City Area Development Council has directly confirmed that the Kansas City SmartPort intends to build a Mexican customs facility to facilitate out-going traffic headed to Mexico. A copy of the Kansas City council resolution authorizing the construction of the Mexican customs facility can be found on the Internet.

Melvin also maintained that NASCO is “not competing with West Coast ports or trying to take work from them.” This argument is made, however, in a brochure posted on the website of the Kansas City SmartPort, titled “Lazaro Cardenas—Kansas City Transportation Corridor Offers Opportunities for International Shippers.”

Yet, in March 2005, Kansas City signed a cooperative pact with representatives from the Mexican state of Michoacan and with representatives from Lazaro Cardenas, a deep-port town on the Pacific coast south of the Baha peninsula, to increase the cargo volume between Lazaro Cardenas and Kansas City. The goal is to bring super-ships carrying 4,000 containers or more from China and the Far East into Mexico so the containers can be moved into the heart of the United States, bypassing the West Coast ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. Right now transportation costs about double the cost of cheap goods made in China and the Far East. The Kansas City SmartPort plan offers a methodology for cutting out U.S. workers from the International Longshoremen’s Association, the United Transportation Union and the Teamsters. As the brochure explains:

Shipments will be pre-screened in Southeast Asia and the shipper will send advance notification to Mexican and American Customs with the corresponding “pre-clearance” information on the cargo. Upon arrival in Mexico, containers will pass through multiple X-ray and gamma ray screenings, allowing any containers with anomalies to quickly be removed for further inspection.

Container shipments will be tracked using intelligent transportation systems (ITS) that could include global positioning systems (GPS) or radio frequency identification systems (RFID) and monitored by the ITS on their way to inland trade-processing centers in Kansas City and elsewhere in the United States.

The Kansas City SmartPort brochure could not be more explicit: “Kansas City offers the opportunity for sealed cargo containers to travel to Mexican port cities with virtually no border delays. It will streamline shipments from Asia and cut the time and labor costs associated with shipping through the congested ports on the West Coast.”

The plan to put the NAFTA Super-Highway is intended to be done incrementally, designed to stay below the radar of mainstream media attention. The full build-out of the Trans-Texas Corridor’s 4,000-mile planned network is projected to be completed in discrete stages, over the next 50 years. This gives plenty of time to expand the super-highway network incrementally, state-by-state up-and-down the various identified NAFTA corridors.

The plan to create a North American Union as a regional government in 2010 is directly stated only in the May 2005 task force report, “Building a North American Community.” Still, we must examine how the Security and Prosperity Partnership signed by President Bush with Mexico and Canada in Waco, Tex., on March 23, 2005, is being implemented. We find that government offices such as the Security and Prosperity Partnership working groups being organized within the U.S. Department of Commerce are signing trilateral memoranda of understanding and other agreements with Mexico and Canada consistent with the goal of fulfilling the CFR’s dream to bring about a North American Union by 2010.

We find the same here. NASCO is a trade organization that will never fund or build a single highway anywhere. Yet NASCO supports its members and NASCO members are hard at work building the NAFTA Super-Highway.