The NAFTA Superhighway
Add up all the above ingredients--NASCO, SPP, Lázaro Cárdenas, the Kansas City SmartPort, the planned pilot program allowing Mexican truckers to drive on US roads--and you still don't have a superhighway four football fields wide connecting the entire continent. Which is why understanding the persistence of the NAFTA highway legend requires spending some time in Texas, where Governor Rick Perry and his longtime consigliere, Texas Department of Transportation commissioner Ric Williamson, are proposing the $185 billion Trans-Texas Corridor (TTC), 4,000 miles of highway, rail and freight corridors, the first of which would run up from the border through the heavily populated eastern part of the state. Plans for the TTC call for it to be up to four football fields wide at points, paving over as much as half a million acres of Texas countryside. The first section will be built and operated by a foreign enterprise, and when completed it would likely be the largest privatized toll road in the country.
And unlike the NAFTA highway, the Trans-Texas Corridor is very, very real.
In 2003, amid a dramatic drawn-out battle over a legally questionable GOP redistricting plan, the Texas state legislature passed House Bill 3588. At 311 pages, it's unlikely that many of those who voted for the bill had actually read it (and many have come to regret their vote), but it received not a single opposing vote. The bill granted the Texas Transportation Commission wide latitude to pursue a long-term plan to build a series of corridors throughout the state that would carry passenger and commercial traffic and contain extra right-of-way for rail, pipelines and electric wires.
What first triggered opposition was that under the plan, the new TTC roads would have tolls, something relatively novel in Texas. The state's Department of Transportation--known as TxDot--pointed out that the state's gasoline tax, which pays for road construction and maintenance, hadn't been raised since 1991, while population and commercial traffic were growing at a dizzying pace. Tolls, the governor and his allies argued, were the only solution. (Many TTC opponents propose raising the gasoline tax and indexing it to inflation.)
But opposition quickly spread, from those in metro areas concerned about the cost of their daily commute to ranchers angry that their land might fall under the TTC hatchet. According to Chris Steinbach, chief of staff for rural Brenham's Republican State Representative Lois Kolkhorst, when people in the district heard about the plan they responded by asking, "'Why would you want to do that?' It was a real front porch, rocking chair kind of question."
Meanwhile David and Linda Stall, a Republican couple from Fayetteville, Texas, began actively organizing opposition to the proposal. As early as 2004, they started bringing friends out to local TxDot hearings and launched the website Corridor Watch. By the time the 2006 gubernatorial election rolled around, a wild four-way race with incumbent Rick Perry pitted against three challengers, the TTC had become one of the most controversial issues of the campaign. Perry was re-elected with 39 percent of the vote, but with all three of his opponents campaigning passionately against the TTC, it was hardly a popular endorsement of the plan.
What was once scattered resistance is now a full-fledged rebellion. The Stalls have pushed through a plank in the state's GOP platform opposing the corridor, which means the governor is now at odds with the official position of his own party. In March thousands of Texans from across the state attended an anti-TTC rally on the Capitol steps, and liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans came together to co-sponsor a moratorium on the plan. It passed the House and Senate, only to be vetoed by Governor Perry. (A considerably weaker version was ultimately signed into law.)
Perry's continued support of the TTC in the face of mounting opposition is more than just a political liability; it's begun to resemble Bush's Iraq policy in its obstinate indifference to public opinion. This, along with the fact that the federal government sent a letter to the state warning it not to pass a moratorium on the project, has fueled conspiracy speculations about what the real goal of the TTC is. Kelly Taylor, a John Birch Society member and Austin-based freelance contributor to its magazine, has been working hard to connect the dots between the TTC and the NAFTA Superhighway. "It first surfaced because it was a local toll issue," she told me over coffee. "That, in and of itself, was alarming enough--all the corrupt politics that happened to make it come about. Then we thought, Wait a minute, something's not right here, this is bigger than just a local toll issue."
Taylor may represent a certain fringe of the anti-TTC efforts (her name prompted some eye-rolling among other activists), but there's a whole lot of cross-pollination between local concerns about the TTC and the growing North American Union mythology. When I asked David McQuade Leibowitz, a Democratic State Representative from San Antonio, why the governor was so determined to build the TTC, he put his boots up on his desk, leaned back in his chair and said, "I think Texas is the first link in the highway to run from South America to Canada. One nation under God. We see bits and pieces of it. We don't see it all. It makes us cringe and sick to our stomachs."