Group hopes to transform U.S. Highway 83 into major trade route

North Dakota State Roundup

Published October 1, 1994  | October 1994 issue

Following on the heels of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), but also inspired by rural revitalization hopes, a Minot-based trade group recently announced plans to advance trade opportunities along US Highway 83—from Canada to Mexico.

In the Ninth District, Highway 83 passes through the heart of North and South Dakota as it stretches between the United States' northern and southern neighbors. In recent years, increased trade and consumer traffic with Canada has benefited communities along the northern tier of the highway, according to Steven Pedersen, managing director of the Central North American Trade Corridor. And there are reports that southern states have increased trade with Mexico since the passage of NAFTA. But this is just the beginning, Pedersen says.

The trade group's goal is to target 350 cities and establish local chapters, which are funded by individual and business memberships. These local chapters—which already exist in the six corridor states, as well as in Canada and Mexico—will then work for highway construction and freight handling improvements, compile trade directory information and promote the corridor in their areas. Representatives from the local chapters meet regularly—Regina, Saskatchewan, was the site of an October meeting—and they keep abreast of regional developments through newsletters and other correspondence. So far, the group has gained the support of over 100 local governing bodies and chambers of commerce.

"We certainly feel that it would benefit our area," says Horace Eaton, president of First State Bank and Trust of Hollis, Okla., and a member of the trade group. "We're excited about it."

As in many states, transportation in Oklahoma has historically been geared for east-west movement, Eaton says, and he hopes the trade group's efforts will lead to improvements in Highway 83. Eaton says he has already noticed increased traffic on area highways because of trade with Mexico, but he fears that his region will miss out if Highway 83 is not improved. "It's a political effort right now to develop the roadway," Eaton says of the group's current efforts in his region.

Ultimately, however, there is more at stake than an improved north- south highway, Pedersen says. All of the group's efforts are driven by a concern for the future of Great Plains rural communities. The trade association was formed three years ago when a group of northwestern North Dakotans brainstormed for ideas to revitalize their small towns. "This part of the world is worth saving," Pederson says. "The focus isn't just the highway."

David Fettig