Funding Crucial to Ports to Plains Development

Michael Reeves, Ports to Plains President

Michael Reeves, Ports to Plains President

A series of connected highways running 1,390 miles from Mexico to Canada through Texas, New Mexico, Colorado and other northward states Dakota make up the basic Ports to Plains Corridor project. Lamar hosted a regional meeting this past Wednesday, July 15,  allowing participants to learn about the most recent developments for highway development and the need for sustainable funding to continue the project which will expand two lane highways into four lanes for the length of the route.

The meeting was facilitated by Michael Reeves of Texas, President of the Ports to Plains Alliance and Joe Kiley, Vice-President of Operations, who hails from Limon, Colorado. Transportation officials from Colorado, Texas and North Dakota were on hand, along with local officials from the City of Lamar, Prowers County and CDOT.

Reeves provided an historical perspective of the Corridor development, going back to the first leg of the route, connecting Lubbock, TX to Interstate 40 along Highway 27 in 1929. “The Corridor aids several states through agriculturally based economic competition,” he explained, adding that the proposed route follows the development of other high finance industries such as oil and gas and solar and wind development. “This is one of the best ways to move freight among these states and the cost of hauling various materials benefits communities along the Corridor, from supplies to job creation,” he stated. As an example he said 25% of the costs associated with erecting wind turbine towers are associated with moving materials to construction sites and that ratio is similar for transporting oil or gas. Reeves said that by 1997 a quarter of the route had been completed with upgrades and currently, about half of the route has been enlarged to four lanes. Each of the participating alliances for each state is responsible for developing regional funding.

Joe Kiley provided an update for the Corridor in Colorado, highlighting the need for funding from state and federal sources to get the project moving. Kiley said the states rural areas are lagging in securing funds to further the project and as such, there will competition with the Front Range for legislated dollars. “In Colorado, there are 88 miles of improvements between Limon and Denver and I-25 is the only four lane growth that has happened.” He noted that 646 miles of four lane roadways have been constructed from Raton, New Mexico to San Angelo, Texas.

Joe Kiley, P2P Vice President of Operations

Joe Kiley, P2P Vice President of Operations

“The improvements on Highway 287 are a step in the right direction, but they’re only a step. From my vantage point in Limon, I see trucks coming up 287, but they won’t take Highway 71 north that has no shoulders on their route, they’ll use I-70 to Denver and swing onto I-25 for their route,” he explained. Kiley noted that 50% of the roadway on the Corridor and states north of Colorado to Alberta, Canada are complete. “That’s a lot of work done on either side of Colorado, but to date, not a single piece of four lane has been done in the state,” he told the gathering. He added, “I’ve asked for a study from the Transportation Commission to do an Origin of Destination on truck traffic going north and south on I-25 and to date I’ve had no response and I’ve been challenged to ask them again for a response to see if anything develops.”

Kiley said he has some legitimate concerns about how this is shaping up for future funding. With no improvement on the rural Corridor, more traffic is using available highway systems, especially along the Front Range. If the traffic continues to build, he says they’ll start to draw away revenue from future projects. “My biggest fear is with continued traffic, these areas will create their own Regional Transportation Authorities to improve their roadway with money that can be spent on rural projects. Without some form of tax increase for funding, we won’t see anything come out way in Colorado,” he told the gathering.

When asked about the breakdown between state and federal highway funding, Kiley responded, “There’s more oversight on highway projects with federal funding. We’ve seen that on the Highway 50 projects. The EPA and other studies slow the process, even if they do fund the projects up to 85 to 90%, but even if $1 federal dollar is spent, then the federal government rules and regulations are going to apply.” Kiley felt that when it comes to highway improvements amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars, the Coalition is better off letting those federal funds go to major cities, and use the state money for rural concerns.

He added that the only way he can see that the Corridor will see any new funding is through a tax increase. He said the most recent gas tax was in 1992 and it hasn’t changed since that time. But over the past 25 years or so, vehicles have become more fuel efficient which decreases the amount of funds the static tax will generate for highway improvement. “We have to decide if we, especially in the rural areas, want to see our economy grow with an improved highway system, we’re going to have to convince everyone the way to do it will be through tax growth.

By Russ Baldwin


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