Congress advances NAFTA superhighways in FAST Act

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Congress quietly moves NAFTA superhighway corridors forward in FAST Act
By Terri Hall
February 1, 2016
Selous Foundation for Public Policy Research

Such NAFTA international trade has all but destroyed the American manufacturing base, it threatens U.S. jobs and has contributed to stagnant wages since its inception in 1992. So the funding and expansion of the NAFTA trade corridors coupled with the porous southern border create another source of angst for American voters as they weigh the current presidential contenders.

CANAMEX map AMC 2014 thTucked into the 1,300-page federal highway bill, ‘Fixing America’s Surface Transportation’ Act, or FAST Act, that passed at the end of 2015, Congress quietly advanced several corridors of the NAFTA superhighway system, like Interstate-11. The interstate will connect Phoenix to Las Vegas and will ultimately run from Nogales, Arizona to northeast Washington State, establishing key trade corridors from Mexico to Canada.

The FAST Act is the first long-term highway bill to pass in over a decade, but it failed to enact any major reforms, failed to shore-up the funding shortfall in the federal highway program, and keeps most federal programs, like the NAFTA superhighways, euphemistically called high priority corridors, on auto-pilot for the next 5 years quietly eluding public scrutiny, while advancing the establishment’s global trade agenda.

There are 12 highway segments added as high priority corridors within the FAST Act. I-11 is the Intermountain West Corridor that’s part of the western offshoot of a primary set of  NAFTA corridors known as CANAMEX. The FAST Act also added one from Raleigh, North Carolina to Norfolk, Virginia, and others like the Sonoran Corridor connecting two interstates south of the Tuscon Airport, a corridor from Denver, Colorado to Salt Lake City, Utah, a corridor connecting Interstate-81 at the intersection of Interstate-86 in New York to the border with Canada, and another called the Central Texas Corridor from I-10 following Route 190 eastward to Highway 63 at the Sabine River Bridge at Burrs Crossing. Most of these high priority corridors represent just one segment of a larger North American trade corridor system that ultimately connects trade hubs and ports in the United States with trade hubs and ports in Mexico and Canada.

Both the Central Texas Corridor and the Intermountain West Corridor also achieved interstate status in the bill, with the Central Texas Corridor officially designated as Interstate-14 and the Intermountain West Corridor as Interstate-11. This designation qualifies these corridors for federal grants  – essentially taxpayer dollars – they couldn’t otherwise access, including intelligent transportation system grants to track commercial vehicles.

The original purpose of the NAFTA superhighway trade corridor and toll road system was to facilitate the movement of people and goods between Mexico, the United States, and Canada as an extension of the NAFTA free trade agreement, originally championed by presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. Mexican trade was quickly supplanted by global trade and the massive influx of cheap Chinese goods coming into the United States (and eventually Canada) through the deep water port of Lazaro Cardenas in Mexico. It’s one of the driving forces behind these congressionally designated high priority corridors, necessitating the tracking of commercial goods. Now global companies will have access to taxpayer funds to facilitate their private business deals.

The bill requires the technology to be ‘interoperable’ so that all the data and tracking can be harvested and followed by one federally-approved central system. Even the research, development, and maintenance costs of the private carriers can be offset by taxpayer funds, according to the FAST Act.

U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer of California, who is the ranking member and former Chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee that authored the Senate version of the bill, directly connected the Intermountain West Corridor to international trade in a meeting with the I-11 Coalition last May. Senator Harry Reid along with other influential senators, like John McCain and Jeff Flake, are also big supporters of I-11. So, it should come as no surprise that I-11 made its way into the final highway bill.

For the first time, a transportation bill also enshrines into federal law a National Multimodal Freight Policy, a Strategic Freight Plan, as well as a National Highway Freight Program with access to $6.3 billion for freight projects on the National Highway Freight Network. The plan actually requires controversial ‘innovative financing’ methods like public-private partnerships akin to corporate welfare that socializes private entities’ losses, while privatizing the profits. The movement of freight is not confined to railroad tracks but also encompasses trucking and the movement of goods across highways from intermodal hubs. So, freight programs will now compete for scarce highway funds along with rail and transit programs that were expanded in the FAST Act.

Instead of reversing the diversion of gas tax funded highway dollars, the FAST Act dilutes highway funds even more – requiring few options, including an unpopular increase in the gas tax and a greater reliance on toll roads and the use of more general revenue financing.

This linkage of the so-called high priority corridors with ‘international trade’ gives meaning and  credence to the long developing NAFTA Superhighway trade corridor and toll road system, which in a few short decades to come will ultimately lead to the economic and political integration of the U.S., Canada and Mexico, better understood by the grassroots as the North American Union, jeopardizing American sovereignty and independence.

Such NAFTA international trade has all but destroyed the American manufacturing base, it threatens U.S. jobs and has contributed to stagnant wages since its inception in 1992. So the funding and expansion of the NAFTA trade corridors coupled with the porous southern border create another source of angst for American voters as they weigh the current presidential contenders.

On the campaign trail, Donald Trump addresses the border as well as the loss in American jobs and wages dubbing them ‘bad deals,’ which has catapulted him to frontrunner status in the Republican field. In the meantime, former Texas Governor Rick Perry, notorious for his failed attempt to ram the Trans-Texas Corridor through the state – a multimodal feeder system connecting Mexican ports with U.S. and Canadian trade hubs – has endorsed Senator Ted Cruz, separating the popular nationalist candidate from his internationalist rival for president.

The economic drain from the McConnell-Ryan boost global trade has received with passage of the FAST Act by a Republican Congress will continue to adversely affect American jobs and wages, until a president and a new Congress take firm steps to reverse it. Americans cannot afford to sit on the sidelines and wait for help to arrive. Voters must make it a major campaign issue across the board. They must hold incumbents accountable for their coziness with the special interests pushing for such giveaways and taxpayer subsidies at the end of a congressional session like those inserted into the FAST Act, with rushed House and Senate passage on December 3rd just ahead of Christmas recess. The FAST Act was signed by President Obama on Friday, December 4, becoming Public Law 114-94.

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