The Texas House Transportation Committee, chaired by State Representative Larry Philips, held a public hearing on the Panama Canal expansion project in the board room of the Greater Houston Partnership this morning. Phillips explained that the hearing was to help the committee determine whether the state’s infrastructure is ready to accommodate the increase in commerce expected from the opening of the canal’s new lane of traffic.
Nick Pansic, deputy design engineer for MWH Global reviewed the history of the Panama Canal and the scope of the project. Listen
“The overall cost of the expansion project is about five and a quarter billion dollars,” Pansic said. “It is not the biggest infrastructure project on the planet but it certainly is probably the most wide-ranging in terms of its impact.”
Pat McCoy, Rose Cannady and Tim Welch of TEX-21 questioned whether Texas is ready to accommodate the increased business from the expanded Panama Canal. Listen
“We strongly encourage the committee to consider the Panama Canal not only as a minor moment, but as a catalyst for new statewide policies that will allow Texas to become the most vigorous and robust importing and exporting state in the nation,” McCoy said.
Texas Transportation Commissioner Jeff Austin and Texas Department of Transportation Executive Director Phil Wilson appeared before the committee. Listen
“We won’t know for at least several years what the ultimate impact will be,” Wilson said. “We do know that TxDOT will do everything possible to ensure that our state’s transportation infrastructure will be ready for that impact.”
Port of Brownsville Director/CEO Eduardo Campirano, who also is president of the Texas Ports Association, as well as Port Freeport Interim Executive Director/CEO Phyllis Saathoff and Port of Houston Authority Chair Jim Edmonds, addressed the committee. Listen
“Texas ports rank at the top of the U.S. States in terms of waterborne commerce, handling approximately 500 million tons of foreign and domestic cargo,” Campirano said. “Texas ports create well in excess of 1 million jobs, generating $48 billion in personal income.”
Saathoff reviewed the investment that Port Freeport is making in infrastructure improvements in preparation for the canal expansion, “and why it is so important for us to all work together going forward, to be very strategic in the investment of our funds”.
“Because of the significant impact of ports in the maritime industry to Texas, putting resources into transportation infrastructure provides a good return on investment,” Edmonds added.
Captain Bill Diehl, president of the Greater Houston Port Bureau, but speaking as chair of the Greater Houston Partnership’s Ports Task Force, said the expanded canal will benefit the ports of Texas but warned that infrastructure needs must be met. Statement
“The US Department of Transportation estimates that world trade, the vast majority of which is transported by ship, will double in the next 20 years,” Diehl said. “Ships are becoming larger, requiring more sustained dredging. The Panama Canal’s expansion will allow these large ships to reach us by bridging the maritime highways of the Pacific with the Gulf of Mexico. However, to capitalize on this bright future, we need to continue to invest by dredging and building out our infrastructure; otherwise, the inefficiencies will starve the golden economic goose—our ports.”
Transportation Committee Chair Phillips thanked the Greater Houston Partnership for hosting the meeting of the legislative committee.