Houston could be the new Wal-Mart of North America, replacing the West Coast as the delivery door for consumer goods delivered to the continent, with shipping and trucking plans that only enhance the concept of a combined North American Union.
As Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez pushes for “major
trilateral initiatives” that would capture the vision of the integration of the U.S., Mexico and Canada, and state lawmakers fight a rearguard action to restore confidence in the
U.S. sovereignty, officials in Houston are watching plans to expand the Panama Canal, and measuring the depth of the port’s water to see what
limits there would be on ship sizes.
Jim Edmonds, chairman of the Port of Houston, told WND Houston already has 73 percent of the container market in the Gulf of Mexico,
and 94 percent of the container market in Texas, and it is preparing to take advantage of the planned expansion of the Panama Canal. “So, it
would be logical to assume that whatever growth in Gulf container traffic that comes from the expansion of the Canal would most likely come into Texas,” he told WND.
Cambridge Systematics study completed for the Texas Department of Transportation in October 2006 confirms that the impact of the
Panama Canal expansion “will be felt most heavily on and around the Port of Houston, the state’s largest container port and a key trading
partner for goods shipped via the Panama Canal.”
study also documented the move away from West Coast ports, noting that “the Panama Canal’s share of total container shipments
between Asia and the United States has increased from 11 percent in 1999 to over 38 percent in 2004 and container volumes through the Canal
are expected to grow by nearly 6 percent annually over the next several years.”
It also noted that Texas ports are expected to grow by more than 40 percent on average between now and 2035. The report said when the
canal expansion is completed in 2015, “the Port of Houston’s growth rate will most likely increase significantly, placing pressure on terminal
operators, trucking companies, railroads, state and local transportation planning agencies, and other stakeholders in the maritime and
transportation communities to maintain operational efficiency on or around port facilities.”
Edmonds told WND that the Port of Houston recently completed a project taking the depth from 40 to 45 feet, and that permits to go
deeper – perhaps 50 feet – “are very challenging to come by in today’s world.’
So he said plans are being considered to deal with that. “To handle post-Panamax ships, the Gulf Coast ports and probably the Florida
ports will have go to a trans-shipment scheme put in place,” he said. The huge post-Panamax ships will come into a facility in the Gulf or the
Caribbean and the containers will have to be transferred to a smaller ship.
The Port of Houston just two months ago opened the Bayport Container Terminal in anticipation of an ever-increasing volume of container
traffic coming through the port.
A press release on the Port of Houston website
notes that container traffic at Houston has risen at an average growth rate of more than 10 percent per year for the last 15 years.
The press release also cited studies by the Texas Transportation Institute that predict a continued worldwide container growth rate of 7.2
percent through 2010.
WND previously has reported that an “all-water” route
through the Panama Canal into the Gulf of Mexico is planned as an alternative to West Coast ports such as Los Angeles and Long Beach for
container megaships from China and the Far East.
Cambridge Systematics concluded that the Bayport Container Terminal “will approximately triple the available capacity for containerized traffic at
the Port and allow it to more effectively handle Panamax and post-Panamax ships.”
According to the Port of
Houston website, the $1.4 billion Bayport Container Terminal when fully developed will have seven container berths with the capacity to
handle 2.3 million 20-foot equivalent units on a complex which includes a 376-acre container yard and a 123-acre intermodal facility.
Once the goods are on land, Edmonds confirmed, there also are plans working through the Trans-Texas Corridor for the expansion of I-69
to take the goods from shore to store.
“The Port of Houston’s largest trading partner is Mexico,” Edmonds told WND. “There are 13,000 truck crossings per day at Laredo,
Texas. Most of those trucks are destined for the Port of Houston. Mexico uses this port a lot for its import/export traffic. So for many years
we have been working on road and rail enhancements to move cargo back and forth from Mexico. The Port of Houston has been an advocate of
the I-69 corridor since its inception.”
“I-69 is basically an upgrade of I-59 to a super-freeway system,” Edmonds explained. “About a year-and-a-half ago, the the Trans-Texas Corridor project and I-69 merged their efforts.
The scope of TTC planning is huge, involving auto lanes, truck lanes, rail lanes, plus broadband corridors and pipeline corridors, all together with
a funding source.”
The TTC website now includes an I-69
section. The funding source for TTC-35, the superhighway planned to be built parallel to I-35 from Laredo to the border of Oklahoma south
of Oklahoma City, is Cintra Concesiones de Infraestructuras de Transporte,
S.A., a Spanish investment consortium.
“I am hopeful that the south Texas segment of I-69 will be among the first to be upgraded,” Edmonds said. “I-69 is a good benefit for the
Port of Houston. I-69 goes from Mexico to Detroit and over into Canada. I-69 is an excellent trade corridor. I see I-69 over time as a real
improvement to the ability to move cargo from Canada to Mexico and the Port of Houston needs to be a player in that.”
“There is also an initiative by the four Mexican states around Laredo, Texas, to come together on upgrade issues involving bridges and
highways,” Edmonds noted. “We also work with Mexico on customs issues. There’s a lot of conscientious effort going on in Texas to make
sure we have a better mobility system between Texas and Mexico.”
According to the Port of Houston’s website, the port is made up of the Port of Houston Authority and the 150-plus private industrial
companies along the Houston Ship Channel.
Edmonds said that ancillary facilities also are growing.
“We have seen a spate of growth in distribution centers around the Port of Houston,” he said, “and I anticipate that we will continue to see
growth in distribution centers. From the distribution centers, the goods will either be sent directly off to a retail outlet or they will be repackaged
and shipped them to where the need is for that particular product.”
“If you look at this country, Chicago, L.A.- Long Beach, and Houston are three key freight-rail center,” Edmonds said. “The Port of Houston
in addition to the Port Authority is the second largest petro-chemical complex in the world. So, you have a huge amount of refined
petrochemical product moving into the U.S. marketplace everyday through the port.”
Edmonds said one of the goals is a port complex that would load trains and sent them out seamlessly to a marketplace including the
West Coast, the Midwest and Mexico. The port estimated more than 32,000 jobs will be created at full build-out in 15 years or more.
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