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State officials in Texas, already planning massive 1,200-foot-wide roadway corridors to facilitate the movement of goods from China and the Far East into North America through ports in Mexico, now want some of that off-loading business, too.
The Texas Department of Transportation says it is planning to tie the Trans-Texas Corridor project into plans for new traffic officials hope will come through their own ports of Houston and Corpus Christi.
They could be getting a flood of new container ship traffic once a new set of locks to make the Panama Canal deeper and wider allows the next generation of megaships bringing containers of goods to North America to pass through.
WND previously has reported that TTC-35 plans were designed to facilitate container traffic from the Far East and China to enter North America through Mexican ports including both Manzillo and Lazaro Cardenas on the Pacific Coast.
Now new documents posted on the TxDOT website also tie I-69 into the state agency’s plan to position Texas gulf ports such as Houston and Corpus Christi to get the benefits of an expanded canal.
In forming these plans, TxDOT is aware of competition from other Gulf ports in other states. WND already has reported that the Port of New Orleans is planning to utilize intermodal transportation routes, eventually including barges floating containers up the Mississippi River, to bring goods into the U.S. heartland east of the planned I-69 route.
In October 2006, Cambridge Systematics submitted a final report to TxDOT, titled “Effects of the Panama Canal Expansion on Texas Ports and Highway Corridors.”
The executive summary left no doubt that TTC would be key to the TxDOT plan to prepare for the Canal expansion:
Full realization of the Trans-Texas Corridor initiative will help ensure that the State is able to absorb the growth in freight traffic that will result from the Canal expansion and ensure that it can meet the challenges of serving evolving freight and passenger mobility needs.
Mark Cross, a spokesman for TxDOT, told WND that the Cambridge Systematics study concluded that, “The potential expansion of the Panama Canal means nothing but economic gain for the state of Texas. We feel the Trans-Texas Corridor is a proposed corridor that we think will supplement the current Texas highway system. If the TTC is built, the new corridor will aid the increase in freight traffic we are anticipating from the expansion of the Panama Canal.”
Cross told WND that the port of Houston, which today handles approximately 80 percent of the container traffic entering Texas, is expected to receive the main economic benefit from the expansion of the canal. The port of Corpus Christi is expected to receive the second largest benefit among Texas Gulf ports.
The state agency notes that the construction of the Bayport Container Terminal at Houston is now about 90 percent completed, and when that is done, the port’s capacity for containerized traffic will triple.
TxDOT also notes that the port of Corpus Christi is developing the La Quinta Trade Gateway as a new container terminal, designed “to offer congestion relief from other existing container terminals along the Gulf.”
Cambridge Systematics presents a graph illustrating an “all-water” route through the Panama Canal into the Gulf of Mexico. This is presented as an alternative for shippers who wish to avoid using West Coast ports such as Long Beach and Los Angeles, which require using trucks and trains to transport containers across the Rocky Mountains into the heartland.
The report comments that “the proliferation of distribution and warehousing centers near ports on the Gulf and Southeast coasts of the U.S. have combined to make the Panama Canal route a more attractive option to shippers serving these markets, particularly those shipping consumer goods in intermodal containers.”
The only other alternative is for shippers from the Far East and China to send their containers to the East Coast of the U.S. through the Suez Canal, a longer and more costly alternative to the “all-water” route offered by an expanded Panama Canal into Gulf ports.
As WND reported earlier, the expansion of the Panama Canal is driven by a need to accommodate the new generation of post-Panamax ships, those carrying as many as 12,500 containers. The current canal is typically unable to handle container megaships designed to carry more than 4,500 containers.
A statistical table in the Cambridge Systematics report details that in 2005, 98 million tons of container traffic came through the Panama Canal. Without expansion, that number is expected to reach 185 million tons in 2025. With expansion, the number is estimated to be 296 million tons.
Cambridge Systematics concluded that, “TxDOT should work closely with the Texas Port Authority Advisory Committee and other key stakeholders to ensure that Trans-Texas Corridor plans, programs, and strategies reflect the potential impacts of the Panama Canal expansion on key facilities and corridors.”
Cross told WND that TxDOT feels that, “With the development of the I-35 and I-69 TTC corridors, we will be ready for the expansion of the Panama Canal.”
WND asked Cross if the segregated truck and rail lines planned in the TTC design were the components of the corridor TxDOT planned to facilitate the movement of container traffic from the expanded Panama Canal.
“Yes,” Cross confirmed. “The inter-modal design of the TTC system will help us move the anticipated increase in container traffic we expect from the expansion of the canal.”
And he said while I-69 plans right now do not include a 1,200-foot-wide corridor like TTC-35, “the potential for I-69 to have freight lanes is still there.”
Cross emphasized that TxDOT was very positive regarding the plans to expand the Canal.
“We hope that with the fruition of these plans the positive economic benefit will be widespread in Texas, both for citizens and for businesses,” he told WND.
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