Contributed by: Don WinnerBy Matthew Waller - SAN ANGELO, Texas — Whether the Panama Canal expansion means more trade for Texas remains to be seen, but even if that's not the case, San Angelo could see increased shipments of goods from Mexico, San Angelo's state Rep. Drew Darby said. The Panama Canal plans to double its capacity by 2014, and the ports around the East Coast, and ports on the Texas coast, are gearing up to receive bigger ships. "I think it's unclear as to how much additional trade will come to Texas or through Texas," Darby said.
Darby is part of the Texas House Transportation Committee, which held hearings recently to determine whether transportation infrastructure such as railways and highways were ready to handle any increased trade coming as a result of the expansion. Testimony at the hearings indicated that it takes about 10 days to two weeks less time to truck goods from California than to go through the Panama Canal to Houston, which needs to deepen its port to receive the larger ships that will come through the enlarged Panama Canal, Darby said. Even so, the expanded canal could have an effect on goods coming through San Angelo as progress continues on the Ports-to-Plains Corridor, Darby said.
The corridor is a 2,300-mile stretch of highways from Canada to Mexico that runs through San Angelo. Part of the overall vision is to also have improved rail service so goods can be sent east and west when they reach San Angelo, making the city a central transit hub. "I think it may be a while in coming, but I think with us being a hub for rail and highway, we should see increased trade," Darby said. He said that Mexican ports could take in more goods from the Panama Canal and end up shipping those north through Texas, and San Angelo, as well.
Precinct 4 Commissioner Yantis Green, who has been in contact with county commissioners on the Texas coast, is optimistic. He said commissioners at conferences he has attended are abuzz with preparations to have an influx of traffic from their port authorities, which are beginning to deepen, widen and dredge their ports. "I think you'll see a gradual increase in commercial shipping in East Texas," Green said. Moreover, goods that come to Texas could be less expensive, thanks to the bigger boats, he said. "The more you can put on a ship at one time, the cheaper it is," he said.
Part of the hope is that the transportation of goods from the Texas ports will flow through San Angelo once it becomes more established as part of the Ports-to-Plains Corridor. "What we're seeing is there is some more opportunity for more and more freight to come into Texas," Michael Reeves, the president of the Ports-to-Plains Alliance, said of the Panama Canal expansion. He said most of the corridor is focused on moving goods from Mexican ports, but San Angelo could take advantage of the increase in trade overall, citing as an example the possibility of moving goods from Corpus Christi to Denver, with San Angelo in that trade route. "From the importing perspective, it could lower transportation costs," Reeves said. (San Angelo Standard - Times)