Monday, October 27, 2008

Should Private Companies Be Allowed To Own Our Roads?

As a member of the House of Representative's Transportation Committee I have been able to observe one of the most controversial but rarely talked about and mostly under the radar issues regarding the long term development of our highway system.

One year ago I wrote in my update about an the issue at the heart of which has been Oklahoma's membership in a group known as the North America SuperCorridor Coalition (NASCO), the desire of big corporations to enhance the movement of Chinese-manufactured goods throughout North America, the possible privatization of new state and federal highways and NASCO's desire to deploy sophisticated tracking devices along I-35.

In the past I written about what I believe to be the inappropriate and frightening alliance of big business monopolies backed up by the power of big government. Nowhere is this abuse more evident than when big companies buy long term leases of public roads. You can only imagine how your power as a citizen is minimized when a big (and likely foreign owned) corporation has complete control over a public road on which you depend in order to get where you need to go.

The issue of private ownership of public roads is in its infancy in Oklahoma but appeared to be growing after Texas planned out the construction of the Trans-Texas Corridor (TTC) network. The TTC was to be owned and financed over the next 50 years by a foreign investment group based in Spain known as Cintra.

The TTC initiative begun in 2002 focused on building a superhighway parallel to Interstate 35. It seems obvious that proponents of this privately owned super transit corridor may have intended on linking Mexican ports through Oklahoma to an inland port to be located in Kansas City and from there to various distribution points throughout North America.

A communist Chinese owned company known as Hutchison Ports Holdings is paying billions to deepen the Mexican ports of Manzanillo and Lazaro Cardenas in anticipation of the arrival of container mega-ships capable of holding up to 12,500 containers currently being built for Chinese shipping lines. These ports would likely serve as a starting point for Chinese goods that would be distributed into the United States along the super highway corridor.

NASCO, advocates for the I-35 trade corridor but has also been pushing for the creation of a tracking system known as NAFTRACS to be put in place along I-35. This technology would be developed in part by a joint venture owned by Hutchison Ports Holdings. NAFTRACS has been described by NASCO as a program that provides management tools for mitigating or minimizing traffic congestion and collecting the status of certain items in transit. The data generated by these sensors would be shared with the joint venture although it is not clear if the data would be shared with the Chinese government owners of the joint interest. In May of 2007, NASCO requested that the Oklahoma Department of Transportation sign a letter stating that ODOT was looking forward to participating in the tracking program.

During the 2007 legislative session it was discovered that Oklahoma is a dues paying member of NASCO. In other words your taxpayer dollars were helping finance this organization.

In my update in 2007, I wrote that Senator Randy Brogdon (R-Owasso) would be filing a bill to remove Oklahoma from the NASCO coalition. Shortly after that time the Oklahoma Department of Transportation announced they would be withdrawing from NASCO membership. At this time it appears that the effort to introduce foreign owned public roads in Oklahoma has met with too much resistance. However, as your Representative I am committed to opposing any new attempts to allow this type of long term private ownership of public roads.

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