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to the

Ports-to-Plains Region

November 21, 2017

Volume Number 15
Issue Number 23

There is lots to be thankful for this week, and particularly for us here at Ports-to-Plains. Last week the Texas Transportation Commission approved the Texas Freight Mobility Plan that includes a recommendation for a feasibility study on extending Interstate 27 from Lubbock to Laredo. The plan also designated a portion of the Ports-to-Plains Corridor as a Critical Rural Freight Corridor and highlighted several projects along the route.

Extending I-27 has been a topic in West Texas since before its construction was completed. The general concept for Ports-to-Plains was based on improving the corridor with I-27 as its backbone. The latest serious effort to extend I-27 started about three years ago with then-Lubbock Mayor and Ports-to-Plains Board Member Glen Robertson raising the question with TxDOT if it was time to take another look at extending I-27. Our local state legislators showed great support with Rep. Dustin Burrows of Lubbock filing legislation, co-sponsored by Rep. John Frullo of Lubbock, which would direct TxDOT to conduct a feasibility study on extending I-27. Sen. Charles Perry of Lubbock filed the companion bill in the Texas Senate with Sen. Judith Zaffirini of Laredo signing on as a co-sponsor. We launched letter-writing efforts and encouraged resolutions and our supporters responded overwhelmingly. Ports-to-Plains backers attended public meetings for the Texas Freight Mobility Plan and supporters also submitted written comments, including many mayors from throughout the corridor and Congressman Jodey Arrington (TX-19) who is one of the co-chairs of our congressional caucus. Overall there has been tremendous support for extending I-27 from elected officials to ordinary citizens who want to see their communities grow.

But more important than the overwhelming support is the fact that extending I-27 is something that is very needed by all of Texas. Existing Interstates are congested, not only with freight but local commuter traffic in some of Texas largest metropolitan areas. There is a major gap in Texas’ freight network as there is no major north-south interstate west of I-35. And the Texas Freight Mobility Plan noted that freight movement, and especially north-south freight movement is expected to grow significantly. The Texas Freight Advisory Committee, the staff in TxDOT’s freight and international trade section along with the consultants who compiled the plan recognized this need among several in a very comprehensive report.

We also had good news this week on another project that we at Ports-to-Plains have been supporting for quite some time as the Nebraska Public Service Commission approved the final permit needed for construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline. The pipeline will move oil from Alberta and the Bakken in North Dakota to southern U.S. refineries. The energy sector is a major economic engine throughout the PTP Corridor region, and KXL will create many jobs, and not only in Alberta or through the direct construction of the pipeline. One study indicates that for every two Canadian jobs created by the Alberta oil sands, a third is created in the United States.

 Michael Reeves, President

We are a voice for our small town, grassroots members who may otherwise not have access to the right audiences, as well as a conduit for industry to come together in support and promotion of transportation improvements.

We are committed to working as an Alliance to improve transportation infrastructure and business networks opportunities, by advocating for appropriate funding levels, so business and industry can thrive.

We are focused on the economic and business interests that are the lifeblood of the region.


  TxDOT Recommends Interstate 27 Extension Feasibility Study

Efforts to extend Interstate 27 received a significant boost as the Texas Transportation Commission approved a plan that recommends feasibility study for extending I-27 from Lubbock to Laredo at their November 16 meeting.

“It is rewarding to see TxDOT recognize how important the Ports-to-Plains Corridor is to the state. This is the result of years of hard work from several dedicated people. We also recognize that there is still more to be done and we look forward to working with TxDOT to make sure they have the resources necessary to fully implement this plan,” said Ports-to-Plains Chairman John N. Bertsch.

The Texas Freight Mobility Plan 2017 lists I-27 from Lubbock to Laredo as a Strategic Freight Project. The plan defined Strategic Freight and Initiative recommendations as “significant investments that will shape the state's future freight transportation demands as well as address current unmet needs. Some strategic projects rise to a higher level due to the potential impact they have on statewide freight movements and economic competitiveness. The Texas Freight Advisory Committee played a key role in identifying priority strategic projects and initiatives based on current and future freight volumes, trends and economic opportunities.”

The Texas Freight Mobility Plan states, “The Ports-to-Plains (I-27) corridor from Laredo to Denver was designated as a high-priority corridor on the National Highway System in 1998, and in 2015, a TxDOT initial assessment report on the I-27 corridor found it to be critical to linking the energy and agricultural sectors to state, national and international trade. The I-27 extension would provide the only major north-south corridor in Texas west of I-35, and it would intersect three major east-west routes: I-10, I-20 and I-40. The I-27 extension would upgrade approximately 500 miles from Lubbock to Laredo at a conceptual cost estimate of $5.2 billion. TxDOT has recommended more detailed study of the extension to determine whether an incremental improvement approach or a complete interstate facility approach would meet safety and mobility needs. ”

“This is a big step forward for Ports-to-Plains and the extension of I-27,” said Ports-to-Plains President Michael Reeves. “Our state legislators brought the issue to the forefront filing HB 869 and SB 1034 in the last legislative session and the recommendation for the feasibility study in the Freight Plan pushed it across the goal and brings us closer to extending Interstate 27.

"I am pleased the Texas Transportation Commission recognized the importance of the Ports-to-Plains corridor and the extension of I-27 in their Freight Mobility Plan. A major freight corridor in West Texas will not only improve the efficiency of moving our food, fuel, and fiber throughout the country, but would also enhance safety and alleviate dangerous congestion along I-35 for our freight haulers. I applaud the Ports-to-Plains Alliance for their efforts to make sure these critical corridor improvements are included in the plan,” said Rep. Jodey Arrington (R-TX), co-chairman of the Ports-to-Plains Congressional Caucus.

“Extending Interstate 27 will have a significant impact on economic development throughout West Texas, and it will improve the flow of freight throughout North America,” said Reeves. “About two thirds of US-Mexico trade by truck goes through Laredo, and much of that freight moves through some of Texas’ largest metropolitan areas on the very congested Interstate 35. I-69 provides an alternative for some of those trucks heading to the northeast, and I-27 can provide a less congested alternative for freight heading northwest.”

TxDOT has been working since August 2016 to develop the Texas Freight Mobility Plan (TFMP) 2017 that meets all Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act requirements. The first Texas Freight Mobility Plan was adopted by the Texas Transportation Commission in January 2016. In December 2015, MAP-21 (the former federal funding and authorization bill) was replaced by the FAST Act. The FAST Act provided a new freight focused funding program, the National Highway Freight Program (NHFP), and also created new requirements for state freight plans to have in place by December 2017 in order to qualify for the NHFP funding. These new requirements include: creation of Critical Rural Freight Corridors, creation of Critical Urban Freight Corridors, and development of a fiscally constrained freight investment plan.

House transportation leaders want GAO oversight of INFRA grants 

Leaders of the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and its Highways and Transit Subcommittee are calling for further oversight of a federal competitive grant program after a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report found a lack of transparency in projects chosen to receive grants.

The GAO report focused on the selection of projects under the Nationally Significant Freight and Highways Projects (NSFHP) competitive grant program, created under the Fixing America's Surface Transportation (FAST) Act in 2015.

The first round of grants were issued last year under the name FASTLANE — Fostering Advancements in Shipping and Transportation for the Long-Term Achievement of National Efficiencies. The Trump administration has renamed it the Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) program, which is now receiving applications for additional grants.

In its report, the GAO noted that it was unable to determine the rationale for selecting 18 projects that to receive FASTLANE grants.

"This documentation restated the anticipated benefits of the selected projects, but did not otherwise provide insight into why some projects were selected for awards over others. Without complete documentation of the decision-making, the transparency of the application review and selection process is limited," the report stated.

It's important that the U.S. Department of Transportation carry out the program as Congress intended, the committee's leaders said in a press release.

Read on...

 AASHTO: Congress Misses Tax Reform Opportunity to Address Infrastructure Crisis

The trade group that represents state departments of transportation told congressional leaders they should use tax reform "to address the nation's transportation investment crisis," but instead have proposed bills that not only miss the opportunity but would make it "nearly impossible" to later fund a major infrastructure package.

The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, in separate letters to House and Senate leaders, emphasized "the need to address the nation's transportation investment crisis through tax reform, and we ask you to carefully reconsider taking steps that impede the ability to do so."

AASHTO said that "the most significant tax reform effort in 31 years . . . is the prime opportunity to address the looming solvency crisis facing the federal Highway Trust Fund (HTF), which provides much-needed transportation investments across the country."

But neither the House nor Senate bills include any tax provisions to increase the HTF's dedicated revenue stream. In a Nov. 14 letter to Senate leaders AASHTO said: "We are extremely disappointed that it appears, once again, that Congress will not address this funding crisis."

In fact, unless Congress shores up the trust fund before its current five-year authorization law expires in 2020, AASHTO said federal highway spending would shrink by 40 percent in 2021 while new HTF transit funding would dry up completely for three years.

"Addressing the HTF funding crisis is AASHTO's highest priority in any tax reform legislation, and we view it as a missed opportunity to leave this out of the current Senate tax reform measure," the letter said.

The association also said that only major tax legislation offers the vehicle to come up with funds for the big infrastructure investment program President Trump has promised.

Read on...

Terminating NAFTA Would Devastate American Agriculture: The View of a Wheat Farmer

On average 50% of wheat grown in the United States is exported around the world, making trade a vital market to myself and fellow wheat growers. Our main message in North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) re-negotiations is “Do no harm.”

NAFTA is one of our most important trade agreements. Just last year alone, Mexico was our largest export market with about three million metric tons of wheat and is consistently in the top ten. Prior to NAFTA, U.S. wheat was subject to high tariffs and other trade barriers in Mexico. With zero duties and lifted tariffs, exports to Mexico increased by 400% ten years after implementation of NAFTA, compared to ten years prior to NAFTA.

While we hope calls for withdraw are just rhetoric, we are taking this threat very seriously. In fact, threats alone have already hurt U.S. wheat. When it comes to commodities, if a customer is unsure of the reliability of their source, they will look to our competitors. Mexico has done just that after a trade mission to Argentina and Brazil in May which led to Mexican millers purchasing Argentina wheat. The first shipment purchased by eight companies will be made in late December and will be 30,000 metric tons of wheat as a trial.

Read on...

Keystone XL pipeline clears major hurdle

Developers of the Keystone XL pipeline secured approval Monday for the pipeline to run through Nebraska, clearing a key hurdle in the years-long fight to build the project.

The decision came after a rupture in TransCanada’s Keystone system spilled an estimated 210,000 gallons of oil in South Dakota last week, an incident that rankled opponents of the XL expansion.

Nebraska regulators approved plans for Keystone XL to cross the state, though the approval didn't cover TransCanada's preferred route through the state. The commission voted 3-2 to move the project forward.

The approval comes eight months after President Trump issued a presidential permit for the $8 billion, 860 barrel per day project.

Nebraska’s decision is not the last work on the project, but it is one of the last major hurdles remaining for the project.

Only the Trump administration has to issue permits for the pipeline now, though several permitting decisions — including Nebraska's — are subject to legal challenges. TransCanada itself still has to decide whether to build the pipeline, an economic question that is far from settled.

Read on...

New ATRI Research Provides Clear Guidance on Infrastructure Investment

As the Ports-to-Plains Alliance continues its advocacy for fixing the federal Highway Trust Fund and for the state level funding, we believe it is critical to look carefully at transportation funding options. The American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) recently released A Framework for Infrastructure Funding which assesses the nation’s infrastructure funding options. Did you know that to support the nation’s infrastructure, the trucking industry pays $41.3 billion in federal and state highway-user taxes. The trucking industry, in fact, pays nearly 46 percent of highway user fees collected for the Highway Trust Fund.

The Ports-to-Plains Alliance hopes you will not only read the news release but download the complete assessment. As the news release indicates, “the only meaningful mechanism for attaining the administration’s vision for a large-scale infrastructure program is through a federal fuel tax increase. The inefficiency of other mechanisms, including mileage-based user fees and increased tolling, will fall far short of the needed revenue stream without placing undue hardship on system users.”

Full News Release HERE

The American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI), a well-known leader in transportation-related research, is an organization whose hallmark is innovative thinking, critical analysis and uncompromised excellence. As part of the American Trucking Associations (ATA) Federation, ATRI benefits from the broad support of the ATA and its members.

The ATA represents over 35,000 motor carriers through the affiliated trucking associations in 50 states. As a result of ATRI’s prominence within the trucking industry, state and federal agencies turn to ATRI for trucking-related research, particularly when industry insight and cooperation is essential to the success of the project.

Hickenlooper appoints new transportation director

Gov. John Hickenlooper has chosen a new driver for the Colorado Department of Transportation, but the agency doesn’t appear it will be changing lanes.

The Democratic governor on Monday picked Michael Lewis, CDOT’s deputy executive director and chief operating officer, to be the next executive director of the department after Shailen Bhatt leaves the organization in December to become president and CEO of the Intelligent Transportation Society of America. Lewis was set already to serve as interim executive director.

In his current role, Lewis has overseen policy and operational direction for the $1.4 billion department and its roughly, 3,000 employees. Previously, he served as director of the Rhode Island Department of Transportation and was project director for the $14.8 billion Big Dig project in Boston, which involved replacing the aged Boston Central expressway with new bridges across the Charles River and tunnels beneath Boston's Inner Harbor.

“Mike has a reputation as a problem solver and brings an incredible transportation background to CDOT at a time when our state is faced with significant transportation challenges,” Hickenlooper said. “His experience with some of the biggest projects in our state is critical as we build upon the success of the last few years.”

Bhatt was instrumental in developing a policy that added new toll lanes to interstate highways or other arterial roadways to make drivers help to pay for the expansions, instead of relying on just gasoline or sales taxes. He worked with the Legislature as it passed a $1.9 billion bonding measure earlier this year, though many transportation advocates say much more is needed to cut into CDOT’s $9 billion backlog of needed improvements.

Read on...

Rural Communities’ Untapped Potential for Growth

The primary focus of economic development across America in recent decades has been the attraction and retention of businesses. Create an office park or industrial district, offer tax and other incentives, and lure companies to the site. Yet for much of America, especially the rural communities in which I have spent much of my life, that approach no longer works. Companies are simply not returning at a sufficient rate.

Fortunately, there is a better way. It takes more time but produces business and job growth organically that is rooted in the assets and resources of the local community and therefore not likely to leave town.

The solution is to create a locally defined environment or ecosystem of entrepreneurship -- a culture and structure that facilitates the flow of ideas, talent and resources to start and grow businesses that relate to a community's specific environment. Perhaps surprisingly, the very same communities that may not be able to attract existing companies provide fertile ground for startups. I've seen it happen repeatedly, and there's proof.

The key is for rural communities to recognize that they have valuable assets, one of which is the very nature of rural life. In an increasingly congested and impersonal world, there is great appeal to a close-knit community. The qualities associated with rural life are particularly conducive to the creation of entrepreneurial ecosystems and the free flow of information, skills and resources.

Read on...

New Ports-to-Plains Billboard


Be sure and keep an eye out for the brand new Ports-to-Plains billboard located northbound on Interstate 27 in Abernathy, Texas!

Extension of I-27/Ports to Plains Corridor

The proposed extension of Interstate 27 connects major West Texas population and economic centers including Amarillo, Lubbock, Midland-Odessa and San Angelo in addition to numerous smaller communities.

Has your organization considered the resolution supporting the Extension of Interstate 27?

Have you individually added your name supporting the Resolution?

Please share with your Texas Friends!

Please click here to add your personal name to the Resolution in Support of Expansion on Interstate 27

Please click here to downland a draft organizational resolution for consideration by local governments and non-profit organizations.  (Word Document) 

Upcoming Events


January 23, 2018 - Quarterly Ports-to-Plains Board Meeting, Amarillo, Texas

 Ports-to-Plains Alliance Staff

Michael Reeves
5401 N MLK Blvd. #395
Lubbock, TX 79403
P: 806-775-2338
F: 806-775-3981

Duffy Hinkle
Vice President of Membership & Marketing
5401 N MLK Blvd. #395
Lubbock, TX 79403
P: 806-775-3373
F: 806-775-3981

Joe Kiely
Vice President of Operations
PO Box 9
Limon, CO 80828
P: 719-740-2240
F: 719-775-9073

Jeri Strong
Executive Assistant
Ports-To-Plains Alliance
5401 N. MLK Blvd. Ste. 395
Lubbock, TX 79403
P: 806-775-3369

Cal Klewin
Executive Director
Theodore Roosevelt Expressway
PO Box 1306
22 E Broadway
Williston, ND 58802
P: 701-523-6171

Deb Cottier
Board of Directors
Heartland Expressway Association
706 West Third St.
Chadron, NE 69337
P: 308-432-4023

Jay Slemp
Eastern Alberta Trade Corridor
212 2nd Ave. W
Box 820
Hanna AB T0J 1P0
P: 403-854-0424