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Regional Development Impacts of Trade Corridors: Recent Experiences from the United States
Andy Goetz, University of Denver

Sharp increases in the volume of trans-Pacific trade are threatening the capacity of west coast ports in North America as well as inland highway and rail networks. In recognition of the importance of trade to national and regional development, governments at the federal, state, and local levels in the US have been developing plans, programs, and projects to begin addressing the transportation infrastructure challenges of increased trade volumes. The US federal government established the National Corridor Planning and Development (NCPD) Program and the Coordinated Border Infrastructure (CBI) Program to provide funding for planning, project development, construction and operation of projects that serve high priority corridors throughout the United States and border regions near Mexico and Canada (USDOT, Federal Highway Administration 2007). Individual US states, metropolitan planning organizations, and even some private sector groups are engaged in these and other initiatives designed to address transportation capacity issues caused in part by increasing freight volumes.

This paper examines the general topic of the regional economic and environmental impacts of transportation corridors on nearby communities, with a specific focus on projects and plans in Colorado and the western US. Numerous theoretical and empirical studies have established the significant impact of transportation in facilitating economic development. Many small, rural, and/or economically distressed places have especially come to view transportation projects as vital to increasing regional employment and long-term economic growth. Similarly, many studies have addressed the environmental and social implications of transport projects, usually in the context of more highly urbanized communities. Many of the trade corridor plans and projects in the US have emphasized their economic development benefits at different geographic scales while being cognizant of minimizing negative environmental and social externalities upon local communities.

This paper focuses on efforts in Colorado and the western US to develop trade corridors that traverse more sparsely-settled, rural areas to avoid already highly-congested routes. Specifically, they include the following examples:

  • The "Ports-to-Plains" corridor that starts in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico and goes north through western Texas, the Oklahoma panhandle, northeast New Mexico, and eastern Colorado, ending at Denver,
  • A Colorado Department of Transportation plan to relocate railroad lines away from the more congested Front Range urban corridor (Ft Collins-Denver-Colorado Springs-Pueblo) to the eastern Colorado plains, and
  • The Prairie Falcon Parkway Express plan (nicknamed by opponents the "Super Slab") led by a private-sector group to build a toll road and rail line from north of Ft Collins to south of Pueblo about 20-30 miles east of Interstate-25 that would bypass central Denver and central Colorado Springs.
Each of these examples is profiled to analyze proposed impacts, both positive and negative, on those communities through which the projects would traverse.

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