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Ports-to-Plains Alliance


House Transportation Subcommittee Mulls Ways to Fix Highway Trust Fund

Transport Topics

March 8, 2018

Chairman, Bill ShusterMembers of a House transportation subcommittee seem largely in agreement that the nation’s crumbling infrastructure and near-insolvent Highway Trust Fund are in desperate need of fixes — and quickly.

However, at a March 7 hearing, they agreed less on what long-term funding mechanisms should be used to make the financial, and road and bridge repairs.
“Long-term certainty and stability in infrastructure funding is critical for our states,” said Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), the Transportation Committee chairman. “Without it, our states, our economy and the American people face the consequences. Highway and transit projects get delayed, project costs go up, and our people and businesses continue to suffer the impacts of congestion and inefficiency.”
Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.), chairman of the House Subcommittee on Highways and Transit, agreed.
“Beginning as early as the spring of 2020, states may have to halt construction of surface transportation projects because, once again, the Highway Trust Fund will not be able to meet its obligations,” Graves said. “There are many reasons for this – motor fuel taxes have not been raised in 25 years, fuel-economy standards have increased, not all users pay into the Trust Fund.”

What is NAFTA?

Dirt to Dinner

March 5, 2018

Most of the conversation centered on food circles around the same issues, such as “What are GMOs” or “Where is the organic produce?” Or “Local is better.” At D2D, we wanted to explore the role international trade plays in bringing food to your dinner table.

While you are selecting avocados or blueberries at the grocery store, the last thing you are thinking about is Mexico. Or when you eat a ham sandwich, does Canada come to mind? Probably not. But these are just a few of the products that depend on trade between North American countries to satisfy our food demands.

Year-round availability of many food products occurs largely because other countries can either grow them cheaper than the U.S. or have growing seasons that are opposite of ours. Trade provides the best possible price for the products we want by moving food from where it is grown and produced to where it is eaten. It is an efficient, universal means of bringing balance to supply and demand, and taking the wild swings out of our daily food prices.

Those opposed to NAFTA, on the other hand, argue that the influx of produce from Mexico or Canada negatively affect their prices. For instance, the avocado farmer in California is able to sell the farm’s produce at a premium if avocados are not being imported from Mexico. However, NAFTA can encourage farmers to be more dynamic and versatile in their farming practices. Today, some farmers in California are adapting by diversifying into coffee plants.

Read on...


Former San Angelo Mayor Appointed to Texas Transportation Commission


February 22, 2018

Alvin NewAlvin New of Christoval has been appointed to the Texas Transportation Commission by Gov. Greg Abbott, according to a news release.

The Commission is responsible for governing the Texas Department of Transportation and for policymaking regarding the state’s highway system, developing a statewide transportation plan, assisting the development of public transportation and adopting rules for TxDOT’s operation, according to the release.

"I think it is a blessing," New said Tuesday of the appointment. 

Like local leaders San Angelo Mayor Brenda Gunter and Tom Green County Judge Steve Floyd, New said representing West Texas is important to the Concho Valley and to the state. 

"The ability to get food to the population centers and fuel to the population centers and fiber to the population centers means we need to have really good structure in our part of the state," New said. "And I will have a responsibility to try and communicate that."

U.S. Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Midland, who recently proposed legislation to have the designation of Interstate 14 expanded to include San Angelo, said having New on the commission is important because it decides where the state's transportation dollars are spent. 

Explaining larger population centers, like Houston and Dallas, will get the bulk of money each year, it is important to have someone, like New, who will, "defend rural Texas as his predecessor did," Conaway said.

New is replacing Tyron Lewis of Odessa.

Read on...


The potential ramifications of Trump's proposed infrastructure plan

Pacific Standard

January, 10 2018

President Donald Trump took many opportunities in 2017 to rail against the state of the United States' infrastructure, most recently using the fatal Amtrak crash in Washington state to point out the country's crumbling bridges, roads, and railways. "[O]ur soon to be submitted infrastructure plan must be approved quickly," he tweeted, harkening back to his oft-repeated promise to invest $1 trillion rebuilding the country.

That plan turned into little more than a punch line this past year. But come January, the White House will begin a push, in earnest, for a national infrastructure package that gets to $1 trillion in overall investment, using $200 billion in federal "seed" money, a senior official recently told Fox News.

Trump advisers had previously described an infrastructure package that would rely on the private sector to make up the $800 billion difference. In this version, most of the $200 billion would be rewarded on a competitive basis to states and localities that promise to raise new, infrastructure-dedicated revenue on their own, for a total of $1 trillion, according to White House officials. Some portion of the $200 billion would directly fund projects in rural areas.


Freeways aren't free, and Texas politicos don't want to pay

Houston Chronicle

January 10, 2018

Just after the end of World War I, a young Army officer who was born in Denison, Texas, was assigned to accompany an expedition of military vehicles driving across America. The mission was to determine the difficulties the nation might face moving an entire army across the continent.

Lucky thing the country was no longer at war. The convoy constantly ground to a halt on unpaved roads, sinking into mud, slipping into ditches and sliding into quicksand. The cross-country journey took 62 days, averaging about six miles an hour, something close to the speed of a leisurely walk.

The lessons of that ordeal stuck in the young officer's mind. A generation later, former Lt. Col. Dwight D. Eisenhower cited his 1919 convoy experience as a reason for Congress to authorize construction of the Interstate Highway System. The commander-in-chief also proposed paying for the new freeway system with revenues from federal excise taxes on gasoline and lubricating oil.

President Eisenhower knew not only how to get freeways built, but also how to pay for them. We could sure use his help today in Austin. Instead, we're stuck with state leaders who can't figure out how to perform the basic governmental function of paying for highway projects. Our state's political leadership needs to quit dodging this issue and make some tough decisions about how Texas will finance its future roadways.

The problem is that freeway projects cost a lot of money, but the Republicans running the show in Austin don't have the political courage to pass the cost onto taxpayers. Take, for example, what recently happened to a couple of highway expansions proposed for the Dallas and Austin areas. The Texas Transportation Commission removed them from its ten-year plans because both of those projects rely partly on revenue from toll roads.


How to Keep NAFTA Dressed for Success

U.S. Chamber of Commerce

November 30, 2017

Textile and apparel executives, and their U.S. workers, are nervously eyeing the ongoing negotiations to modernize the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Concerns around possible job losses in this sector are running high and rising.

If you had read those statements in the mid-1980s, you might assume this sector was hoping trade talks would unravel, due to threats of foreign competition. Some still believe that to be the case, but they are mistaken.

What a difference a generation makes.

To understand why NAFTA helps the U.S. textile and apparel industry compete, you need only understand one number: 97.

That is the percentage of clothes that are purchased every year by Americans and produced offshore. We still make clothes here in the United States — primarily for fast turns, for the military, and for special programs — and we always will. But the bulk of our clothing is sewn offshore.

Asian countries own a good chunk of that 97%. Six of our top ten clothing suppliers are in Asia with China leading the way at about 40% market share. But the other four top suppliers are in the Western Hemisphere, and they include Mexico — one of our two NAFTA partners.

Read on...


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

U.S. Chamber of Commerce

November 16, 2017

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.


New ATRI Research Provides Clear Guidance on Infrastructure Investment


Novemver 14, 2017 

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.”

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.