Saying the state is in a "unique position" to take advantage of the upcoming expansion of the Panama Canal, the Texas Department of Transportation is taking steps to make sure the Lone Star State is well-positioned to capitalize on this economic opportunity.
TxDOT is creating a Panama Canal Stakeholder Working Group, made up of a wide variety of entities with an interest in the expansion of the canal. It's seeking input from them on promoting port activities in state transportation planning, on tackling highway bottlenecks such as bridges and links to terminals, and supporting rail investment, especially for exports.
A 2011 Cambridge Systematics study concluded the expansion will allow demand for import and export shipments via Western U.S. Coast ports to remain substantial in coming years, though those ports face physical and other limited constraints to expansion.
This means constraints on West Coast ports could result in more cargo being shipped through Texas ports.
"Preparing the state's infrastructure for such an expansion, in terms of sea and land-based infrastructure, is crucial to accommodating this increased freight traffic," said State Representative Larry Phillips.
A New York Times article earlier this year reported that state officials disagree on the size of the economic benefits and the ability of the state's already congested railways and roads to handle the predicted increase in traffic.
A Port of Houston official told the paper it's being conservative in its predictions, foreseeing a 15% increase in container ship traffic on the trade lane from Asia to Houston.
The TxDOT group will produce a report by year's end assessing the state's readiness to maximize any opportunities the Canal's expansion might bring.
The group will be led by Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, a former state representative, and former member of the Interstate Commerce Commission. Before becoming County Judge, Emmett was a recognized expert on freight transportation issues and logistics, according to TxDOT.
"This collaboration presents us with an opportunity to fully understand the impact of the Panama Canal expansion on Texas' imports and exports and to prepare for that impact." said Judge Ed Emmett.
TxDOT has invited entities from the port, agriculture, trucking, manufacturing, government, oil and gas, and rail industries to be a part of the group. Those confirmed include representatives from the Texas Association of Manufacturers, Texas Port Association, Texas Motor Transportation Association, Texas Farm Bureau, Economic Development and Tourism Division of the Governor's Office, Port of Houston Authority, Texas Economic Development Council, BNSF, and Judge Ed Emmett.
"Bringing together a broad group of experts involved in freight movement in Texas will allow us to develop a comprehensive master plan that addresses connectivity with our ports and potential expansion of export opportunities," said Bill Meadows, Texas Transportation Commissioner. "This Stakeholder Group will focus on enhancing and facilitating the flow of goods through and on our system, which does not stop at our ports but continues through our major corridors such as I-35 and I-69. "
Plans are for the group to meet approximately once monthly for the next six months.