NAFTA TAKES MORE VICTIMS
States Begin Selling Off Toll Roads; Patriot Activists See Ominous Trend
By Mark Anderson
In a move that many grassroots activists believe signals a coming trend, two states have put taxpayer-financed toll roads up for sale to foreign companies. More disconcerting is the fact that these have the potential becoming a massive network of toll roads facilitating free trade throughout North America under the framework of the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA.
In Indiana, foreign interests are obtaining the first lease agreement with a state government to privately operate an existing toll road—paying $3.8 billion for a 75-year lease to operate the Indiana Toll Road.
In addition, the historically significant Pennsylvania Turnpike also may be headed to the proverbial auction block, as confirmed by American Free Press. But apparently it’s not a done deal.
AFP reported last December that Pennsylvania state Rep. Richard Geist had planned to introduce House Bill 1 to sell the Pennsylvania Turnpike to private investors. The Indiana Toll Road deal prompted Hoosiers to send scores of “Ditch Mitch” bumper stickers critical of Gov. Mitch Daniels’s unwavering support of the sale. It involved a deal between the state and ITR Concessions LLC, a partnership of the Cintra Company of Spain and the McQuarie Bank of Australia.
McQuarie and Cintra, as AFP previously noted, also are involved with the highly controversial Trans-Texas Corridor, a planned toll road system that would ripple through the Texas countryside, gobbling up large tracts of land. It would largely be used for trucking foreign merchandise to the United States. A number of safety and security concerns have been raised.
In Pennsylvania, Geist, a Blair County Republican, is employed as a “consulting engineer-legislator,” according to his official web site. He is the ranking minority member of the Transportation Committee. Democrat Joseph F. Markosek is the chairman.
A spokesman for Markosek told AFP on Jan. 29 that, as it turns out, House Bill 1 was active in the previous legislative session but the bill died when the session ended at the close of 2006. Look for the bill to surface with a new number in the 2007 session.
According to the Jan. 16, 2007, Patriot-News, the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission (PTC), an agency of the state government, “hired a team of well-connected Harrisburg insiders to fight any proposal to sell or lease the turnpike.”
However, Bill Capone, the PTC’s communications director, claimed that’s not true. He said the PTC only has been involved in the governor’s study of the critical lack of state transportation funding concerning mass transit, toll ways and possibly converting non-toll ways into toll roads. Proposed remedies include leasing or selling the turnpike to raise state revenues.
Though the toll way’s actual construction was not financed until the time of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s “New Deal,” the Pennsylvania Turnpike’s origins can be traced back to the days of Washington, according to the PTC.
“President Washington publicly favored the establishment of roads to promote the westward expansion of our nation,” notes a passage on the PTC’s web site. “In 1791, the legislature of the Pennsylvanian Commonwealth approved a statewide transportation plan and a year later created the Philadelphia and Lancaster Turnpike Company.”
The company’s charter called for constructing a 62-mile long-surfaced road, providing successful transport for settlers and their goods over muddy territories. After 1800, the route of the future Lancaster Turnpike was replaced by a canal, and then replaced in the 1880s by the early stages of a railroad. A series of decisions and changing national transportation needs over the years led to today’s turnpike, now in its sixth decade of service.
“The original 160-mile route,” the PTC’s web site adds, “has been expanded to 514 miles, carrying 156.2 million vehicles a year at a toll of just over 4.1 cents a mile. . . .Today, the Pennsylvania Turnpike, part of Interstate 76, can be recognized as the first of a new breed of American toll
ways in the interstate highway system.”
But it’s not as if only existing toll ways are under consideration. New ones, with up to six lanes in each direction, are envisioned for the Trans-Texas Corridor, which seems wellsuited as a linchpin for fastening together the United States, Canada and Mexico under the umbrella of a “North American Community.”
China has a big interest in the toll ways because of its commercial shipping in Pacific and Atlantic seaports. Some imported goods can be routed away from West Coast ports, to be unloaded off ocean vessels at cheaper Mexican ports and transported by truck and rail through Mexico into Texas
and beyond by Mexican trucks and drivers.
Kansas City, Mo.—despite being 1,000 miles from the U.S.-Mexico border—has been dubbed a major hub, including as a customs inspection location, for the goods and raw materials transported through the area on existing rail lines and toll ways, and on the new ones that may be built, forever altering the physical, economic and political landscape of these United States.
To voice your views on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, call Rep. Geist at (717) 787-6419 or (814) 946-7218, Rep. Markosek at (717) 783-1012 or (412) 856-8284, and the Turnpike Commission at 800-331-3414. Call Pennsylvania Sens. Robert Casey (D) at (202) 224-6324 and Arlen Specter (R) at (202) 224-4254.
(Issue #7, February 12, 2007)