WASHINGTON – Ask some members of Congress about plans to build a "NAFTA superhighway" connecting Mexico and Canada via the U.S. and you might hear snickers.
Some officials will tell you they have seen no "earmarks" for such a plan and question whether it even exists.
But the plan does exist and the NAFTA superhighway is being built – under the radar screen.
One need look no further than the $286 billion highway bill signed into law earlier this month by President Bush for some of the "earmarks."
The measure gave the state of Tennessee more than $111 million to help plan and build Interstate 69, called "one of the most significant transportation projects in the region's history" by the Commercial Appeal.
No one in Tennessee has any doubts about plans for the NAFTA superhighway. It is being built now with federal taxpayer dollars. And the plan calls for I-69 to extend from Michigan to Texas, linking the Canadian and Mexican borders.
Those supporting the plan, like Transportation Secretary Mario Cino, say it will bring an unprecedented windfall not only to the regions it traverses but for all Americans, Mexicans and Canadians.
Tennessee Department of Transportation Commissioner Gerald Nicely said I-69 "could help position the western part of the state as one of the world's new economic centers of power in the global marketplace."
The entire I-69 project is expected to cost $8.8 billion in current dollars, with states picking up 10 percent of the tab. So where is the money hidden? It's not really. But nowhere in any highway bill is the project referred to as the "NAFTA superhighway." Since the money is doled out to states to spend on their portion of the project, the allocations look like any other highway spending.
Ultimately, the Tennessee portion of the I-69 project is expected to cost $1 billion. It will shadow the present route of U.S. 51, connecting towns like Union City, Troy, Dyersburg, Ripley, Covington and Millington before following what is now I-40/240 through Midtown, according to the Commercial Appeal. The new highway bill focuses on the portion of I-69 through Northwest Tennessee about 80-110 miles north of Memphis. A 20-mile section of that segment – a four-lane stretch of U.S. 51 between Dyersburg and Troy – already is completed. Signs label it as part of the "Future I-69 Corridor." That leaves a 19-mile section to be built from Troy to the Kentucky line before one-third of the I-69 route through Tennessee is completed.
"The route's already been laid out, with survey markers planted in fields and cryptic benchmarks painted on the pavement of country roads," reports the Commercial Appeal.
Detailed drawings are expected to be finished next February. Right-of-way acquisition could begin early next year. Crews could start moving earth as early as 2008.
So why are some officials still questioning whether the project is real?
Last week, in Kansas, Sen. Pat Roberts, a Republican who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, seemed like he was short on domestic, backyard intelligence when he was asked in Saline about the NAFTA superhighway project – again, prompted by reports in WND.
"There's nothing I'm aware of in any authorization bill," Roberts said with derision. "I don't know where these things get started. This is one of those blogosphere things that makes you wonder what's going on."
When the Duluth News Tribune followed up WND reports about the project by turning to a local congressman for help, Mary Kerr, an aide to Rep.Jim Oberstar, said: "There are no earmarks for a superhighway like that."
But you can't hide for long a superhighway, in some places, according to plans, four football fields wide.
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