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International News

NAFTA Superhighways Threaten North America

“I couldn't think of a more disastrous project if I had to think all year,” exclaimed Randy Ghent of the Alliance for a Paving Moratorium. Indeed, politicians and large corporate interests are threatening North America with a scale of highway development unprecedented since the 1970s, all under the guise of ‘free’ trade.


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Pushing several ‘NAFTA Superhighways’ from Canada to Mexico, these special interests hope to boost large amounts of long-distance truck traffic they hope will result from the North American Free Trade Agreement. Or at least that is their excuse for building more highways after the U.S. Interstate Highway System has been declared ‘complete.’

“No politician ever had a maintenance program named after him,” asserted public works expert Roy Kienitz.

The NAFTA Superhighway scheme would add to air pollution, traffic congestion, oil dependence, global warming, roadkill and human death. Local economics and quality of life would suffer, as development moves from town centers to narrow strips along the highway.

Many realize that NAFTA — affecting the U.S., Canada and Mexico — has caused a corporate exodus to the south, robbing the U.S. of over 600,000 jobs.

But this new, lesser-known NAFTA-related scheme could possibly be even more disastrous than the trade agreement itself. Yet the media outside Indiana have generally steered clear of this international issue.

The I-69 Boondoggle: A Corporate Hoax

“Small, independent farmers need help, not road blocks,” testified southern Indiana farmer Gary Seibert. “That is what the I-69 extension will be, a great dam that splits up our farms and separates our communities. We have a name for it when you take our homes, our farms, our natural resources, and our way of life and promise us pie-in-the-sky in return. It’s called rural exploitation. We've heard it all before and we decline your offer.”

Of the various proposed routes, the extension of Interstate 69 would be the most damaging and costly NAFTA Superhighway. The I-69 presently extends from Flint, Mich., to Indianapolis. But as a superhighway it would plow through farmlands, forests, and hundreds of communities in eight states plus Canada and Mexico.

Regardless of the environmental impacts, “two words really determine the future of this highway,” noted Alexander Ewing of the Chicago-based Environmental Law and Policy Center. “One is finances and the other is politics.”

Backers of the I-69 extension, now known as the Midcontinent Highway Coalition, originally just wanted a leg from Indianapolis to Evansville.

“We found out quickly that Congress wasn't interested in a 175-mile highway connecting one town to another,” explained Jim Newland, head of the I-69 coalition. “The only way to get national attention was to create a coalition of states. That's how the I-69 idea grew beyond Evansville to Paducah, Ky., and Memphis, then to Shreveport, Houston and Laredo.”

Of course if additional large amounts of long-distance trade were necessary, rail would be approximately eight times more efficient than trucks, according to research conducted at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. However, supporting local small business is much more environmentally and socially responsible than buying goods from corporations abroad via rail or truck.

In southern Indiana alone, over 200 farms would be bisected by the I-69 NAFTA Superhighway — including nine Amish farms. Over 1,000 acres of forests would be destroyed for the Indianapolis-Evansville right-of-way alone.

‘Free’ Trade: A Bad Deal for Everyone

All significant monetary contributions to the Midcontinent Highway Coalition were donated by special-interest corporations. And all of the advantages to highway expansion and new highways are corporate advantages.

For example, local small businesses give way to shopping malls and corporate chains such as McDonalds and Wal-Mart. Local agriculture also suffers.

The case of a common food product, tomatoes, unfortunately shows the reality of NAFTA in action. Between 1993 and 1995, NAFTA-induced U.S.-Mexico trade caused prices paid to Florida tomato farmers to drop 22 percent. Meanwhile, the retail price on tomatoes rose 3 percent. The difference amounts to a 25 percent profit reaped by transnational corporations, rather than being passed on to the consumer.

“Indeed, the ‘great sucking sound’ that was so feared during the negotiations for the passage of NAFTA in late 1993 is being heard and cheered today,” claimed the Dallas-based NAFTA Superhighway Coalition in what was intended to be a pro-highway article.

“For it is the sound of corporate America gravitating toward this international trade corridor. It is the surge of products moving to market and the sound of money filling corporate coffers... It is the free enterprise system at work.”

Corporations Lobby for I-69

I-69 supporters, led by Rep. Bud Shuster (R., Pa.), chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, are guzzling contributions from donors along the proposed route, government records show. Texas is Shuster's biggest donor state after Pennsylvania. In fact, 62 of Shuster's 77 biggest Texas contributors are located along the proposed I-69 corridors in Texas.

Majority Whip Tom Delay has also been a major NAFTA Superhighway supporter. As a senior member of the Appropriations Subcommittee, he doles out federal highway money. His brother, Randy, a $300,000 per year highway lobbyist for the I-69, helped organize Texas fund raisers for Shuster.

Corporations that donated include Williams Brothers Construction, which is already doing $100 million of work on Houston highways; J & S Consulting Engineers, specialists in highway design; S & B Infrastructure Limited, designers of bridges; the Ayrshare Corporation and George Mitchell, both developers.



Coalition Unites Highway Opponents

The Coalition Against NAFTA Superhighways has formed, uniting groups in all three nations against the I-69 extension and the other proposed north-south 'trade corridors.'

Organizations join the coalition and build the opposition effort by lending their names to the Statement of Opposition (below). Additionally, they can educate and activate their constituencies, lobby government officials, host local slideshow presentations, write press releases and hold press conferences, organize rallies and protests, and bring other groups into the coalition.

Please invite organizations with whom you work to sign onto the following statement:

Coalition Against NAFTA Superhighways

- Statement of Opposition to Proposed Routes -

We work toward a world free of unsustainable economic activity, valuing protection of our farmlands, forests and communities. Concerned with the globalization of corporate power, we support rail freight and local production as alternatives to more long-distance trade and trucks on the road.

The proposed NAFTA Superhighways the I-69 extension, the I-49 extension, the I-35 upgrade, and other such routes would cut swaths of destruction from Mexico to Canada. Costing upwards of $14 billion for the U.S. portion of I-69 alone, NAFTA Superhighways rob taxpayers of funds vital for maintaining existing roads and pursuing alternative modes of transportation.

Such highway construction undermines local economics, adds to global warming, and perpetuates unsafe travel that kills people and millions of animals. Jobs suffer across North America as corporations move to northern Mexico's free trade zone to avoid labor and environmental regulations. With petroleum to virtually run out in the U.S. around 2020, we don't wish to increase our petroleum dependence via road building and unnecessary long-distance trade.

Therefore, we join a growing movement questioning the wisdom of new road construction and striving to end motor-vehicle dependence and further sprawl. To offer an alternative vision to the paving of the planet, our diverse group of organizations hereby unites in the Coalition Against NAFTA Superhighways.

[signatures of North American organizations]

For information on the Coalition Against NAFTA Superhighways, and the 'Anti-Road Show' it is organizing, contact the Alliance for a Paving Moratorium at (707) 826-7775 or Or write to P.O. Box 4347, Arcata, CA 95518, USA. The group is establishing a web site and listserve specifically for organizing on the NAFTA Superhighway issue.

April 29, 1997

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