"We must focus attention... to really make North America move, not just forward, but united and strong."
By JULIAN AGUILAR
Laredo Morning Times
Defending the idea of the Trans-Texas Corridor by saying its critics are trying to portray it as something it is not, the assistant executive director of the Texas Department of Transportation said instead the infrastructure project is necessary to respond to the growth of Texas and the travel habits of its residents.
Phil Russell spoke at the Fourth Annual Inland Ports Across North America Conference at La Posada Hotel on Tuesday. Russell was part of a panel whose five members, from the United States, Mexico and Canada, explained the status of current infrastructure and logistics project they said would help facilitate trade in the 21st century.
According to TxDOT figures, during the last 25 years the state's population increased 57 percent and road use grew 95 percent. Texas' road capacity, however, was slightly better than stagnant, with 8 percent growth.
Russell said the growth trends would likely continue.
"When we begin to look at the future, however, in the next 25 years or even further … the population is only supposed to increase," he said. "We now have surpassed California as the fastest-growing state in the country, and of course road use here in Texas, we love our vehicles, road use is estimated to increase as well.
"One of the tools they gave us several years ago was something called the Trans-Texas Corridor," he said. "Contrary to what you may have read on the Internet … there are really only two elements that we're working on, what we call TTC-35 and TTC-69."
Russell conceded that additional projects might be looked at in the future, but said TTC-35, which has a study area that parallels Interstate 35, and TTC-69, which has a 650-mile study area in Texas that begins in the east and would run south to the Mexican border, are the only two projects that need immediate consideration.
"People are putting their arms around the Trans-Texas Corridor and promoting it as really something it's not," he said. "In many ways it's just a financial tool."
Some critics, however, suggest that the Trans-Texas Corridor is an inefficient solution to traffic problems in Texas.
"It bypasses all the major cities," said David Stall, co-founder of CorridorWatch.org, an organization aimed at increasing awareness about the project and its effect on Texas. "It's inefficient transportation between Austin and San Antonio or San Antonio to Dallas. The connections to and from (I-35 to the TTC-35) are the same existing highways that are currently congested."
Stall also said the project's size and the manner in which it was proposed are also debatable.
"It's a revenue project that came out of the governor's office," he said. "The Trans-Texas Corridor is much larger than it needs to be, and it has not been embraced by any transportation official across the state."
Russell said critics of international trade seem to be under the impression that if the Trans-Texas Corridor project were abandoned, the trade among the countries of North America would somehow cease to exist.
"I think the reality is whether we go Trans-Texas Corridor or not, the trade that we share with Mexico, with Canada, is vibrant (and) is viable to our economy … and so that trade is going to occur whether we build Trans-Texas Corridor or not," he said. Russell added that increase in trade going through the Mexican seaports could only increase the amount of trade that will eventually run through Texas.
Representatives from Mexico briefed attendees about current logistics operations under way that they hope will be an integral part of the future of Mexico's trade with the rest of the world.
Salvador Elguero Molina, director of the Plataforma Logística Hidalgo, spoke about the advantages present in the Mexican state of Hidalgo, which he noted was one of the safest in the nation. A presentation was made about PLATAH, a major logistics-operation project Molina said would capitalize on Mexico City's growth and Hidalgo's central location. Other advantages present in Hidalgo, he said, are rail lines that facilitate trade with Asia and Europe and highway construction that will link the Gulf with the Pacific and the west with the east.
Molina concluded by saying that with the logistics community growing the way it has been, coordination and communication between businesses was essential to secure development and continued global economic growth and trade.
Jorge Arturo Acevedo, director of the Guanajuato Puerto Interior, presented a video about the GTO Puerto Interior, described as the country's first inland port and the largest in Latin America.
Guanajuato owns part of the Golden Triangle in Mexico, it was explained, and in a radius of 155 miles, 60 percent of the country's population and 70 percent of the all the international commercial activity can be found.
In addition, Guanajuato is just 379 miles from the Port of Lazaro Cardenas, which some local business leaders have said will contribute to an increase in trade Laredo expects to see in the next decade.
In closing, Acevedo said he planned to discuss infrastructure projects in cities like San Luis Potosi, Queretaro and Aguas Calientes and others during his speech. He said that flying into Laredo on Sunday, however, he changed his mind.
"We must focus attention to have a better understanding of the opportunity that we have to really make North America move, not just forward, but united and strong," he said.
(Julian Aguilar may be reached at 728-2557 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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