Created 10 years ago to maximize economic opportunity provided through the since-realized promise of increased international trade and a growing focus on transportation safety, security and efficiency, North America's Superhighway Coalition Inc. (NASCO) and its private and public sector members have successfully worked to obtain more than $250 million for transportation infrastructure and technology projects along the I-35/I-29/I-80/I-94 corridor.
The challenges facing trade and transportation organizations like NASCO in 2004 are daunting. Annual truck traffic counts along the Corridor between 1996 and 2001 show double-digit and sometimes triple-digit percentage increases. While international trade between the U.S., Mexico and Canada continues to grow, security at border crossings and along the entire supply chain is forcing governments to come up with innovative ways to balance the safety of intermodal freight movement with economic efficiency. And this spring, Congress and the Bush Administration will continue work on what promises to be fiscally the largest and most important public works program in history — reauthorization of U.S. transportation programs.
NASCO's priorities for the upcoming year address these challenges. NASCO is proposing a solution to direct more funding to multi-state trade corridors with international termini. The “Corridors of Economic Significance” proposal would redirect funding from the existing National Corridor Planning and Development program (which NASCO was instrumental in forming) to three to five key corridors with heavy domestic and international freight movement. NASCO is working with a newly created Congressional group — the North American SuperCorridor Caucus — to focus attention on this proposal as well as I-35, I-29, I-80 and I-94.
Improving freight movement and security at international borders is also a top issue for NASCO, and the Coalition is making strides in building a network of inland ports to reduce congestion at exceedingly busy border crossing facilities. With the help of other non-profit groups, NASCO has sponsored and helped expand a network of inland ports which are currently seeking funding for communications and other trade facilitation projects.
NASCO is also supporting a pilot project to create customs inspection sites at and near the Ambassador Bridge in Detroit and Windsor, Ont. The project would essentially allow U.S. Customs officials to inspect U.S.-bound freight on Canadian soil prior to crossing the bridge. Canadian officials would be given the same opportunity to inspect truck-borne freight in the U.S. before it crosses into Canada.
Promoting Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) applications along the Corridor is a top NASCO priority. The State of Iowa is finishing a demonstration project which utilizes low-power FM radio signals to provide advanced traveler information. NASCO assisted in writing the grant application and lobbied for funding for the project, which will be completed this year.
NASCO also played an integral role in securing more than $400,000 from the U.S. Trade and Development Agency to study ITS applications in Mexico. Partnering with the Mexican Secretariat of Communications and Transportation as well as other non-profit organizations, NASCO provided a blueprint for this study through its 2001 North American International Trade Corridor study, which was led by the Missouri Department of Transportation and paid for, in part, by NASCO.
Later this year NASCO plans to begin work on a demonstration project which will show how hazardous materials can be electronically tracked in real time, while simultaneously sharing pertinent data with the public and private sector entities needing such information. The three-phase project would eventually include Canadian and Mexican participation.
Ken Miller is executive director of North America's Superhighway Coalition Inc. (NASCO) ( www.nasco-itc.com ).