Wednesday, November 19, 2008

La Entrada is more than just trade; it’s about the future

Leaders in the U.S., Mexico reaffirm pledges to finish corridor

The effort to complete La Entrada al Pacifico is about more than reducing the cost of goods shipped from China and Asia.It is about whether Odessa and Midland are prepared to compete in the world marketplace, said James Beauchamp, president of the Midland-Odessa Transportation Alliance.La Entrada is the trade route extending from the Port of Topolobampo, Mexico, through Odessa and Midland and on to Fort Worth.Commitments from the Mexican states of Chihuahua and Sinaloa to complete development of the multi-modal trade route were confirmed at MOTRAN’s third corridor conference during January in Odessa.Beauchamp, said those commitments promise completion of a high-quality roadway through Mexico’s treacherous Copper Canyon to the Port of Topolobampo, as well as dredging of the port’s navigation channel and finding new land for container operations there.“What we have to do is market this road to businesses in Mexico that can use this route,” Beauchamp said.On the United States side of the route, Beauchamp said, work on Highway 67 “is the first success story. The State Highway 349 reliever route will be partly contracted this year.”While delays are a way of life when working through state and federal bureaucracies, “We see pieces of progress,” he said.Recommendations that came out of the corridor conference included:

>> Consolidating the La Entrada al Pacifico Committee.

>> Working toward a major highway from La Junta, Chihuahua to Choix, Sinaloa.

>> Implementing an integral strategy for development of the Port of Topolobampo.

>> Promoting growth of present traffic in the section of Chihuahua to Ojinaga.

>> Promoting the multimodal corridor including a rail line from Topolobampo to Presidio and highway from Presidio through Midland to Dallas.

The international effort to create a viable corridor from the Port of Topolobampo, Mexico, to Dallas-Fort Worth and beyond actually began in 1872 when Albert K. Owen, a young civil engineer assigned to do technical studies for a railroad from El Paso to Mexico City, saw Topolobampo Bay for the first time.Owen envisioned that, “In the future, Topolobampo would unite all the ferrous and maritime zones of North America, of Australia and Asia.”At that time in the 19th century, getting goods from the Far East to the United States was a slow and arduous process, and making the agriculture produce of the United States available to the world market was equally daunting.Owen conceived the idea for a railroad over the Sierra Madre to take goods shipped to Topolobampo from the Far East and Asia to Kansas City. By using that route, he said, merchants would be “shortening 600 miles the distance of a gigantic agricultural market of the United States and opening the door … toward the countries of Oceania and Asia.”But Owen was not alone in his vision of a trade route from the Pacific. Arthur E. Stilwell, an industrialist who became better known in Texas for developing the Gulf Coast port city that bears his name, Port Arthur, attempted to take his railroad, the Kansas City, Mexico & Orient, from Kansas City to Topolobampo.However, the ruggedness of the Sierra Madre and the Mexican Revolution of 1910 intervened.Pancho Villa, who was later named a general in the revolutionary army, worked as a contractor for Stilwell on the KCM&O.In a series of articles Stilwell wrote for The Saturday Evening Post in 1927, he stated, “One of the first things Villa did after the revolution had started was to take a band of his nondescript followers on a 60-mile jaunt from the line of the Orient to a point where there was a silver mine of which I was president and blow up the whole thing and practically destroy it.“I had been receiving a large annual income from this mine — a fact which was known to the revolutionary chief,” Stilwell wrote.”Since the fighting in Mexico was centered around the Orient line, Stilwell wrote, “the company was compelled not only to abandon further construction work but was thrown into receivership.”

In 1967, the effort to further develop highway plans for the Odessa-Midland area was taken up by the Highway Committee of the Midland Chamber of Commerce, headed by the late Bill Collyns. That committee proposed a north-south freeway from Denver through Midland to Interstate 10 northwest of Del Rio.According to historical data provided by Beauchamp, the 1967 proposal pre-dates the Ports-to-Plains proposal, the building of Interstate 27 between Amarillo and Lubbock, and the construction of a four-lane divided highway between Lubbock and Lamesa.The information indicated rough-detail maps show a freeway “bypass” looping around northwest Midland, which is probably present-day Loop 250, and back to Highway 349.The Ports-to-Plains Trade Corridor is a planned, multimodal transportation corridor including a multi-lane divided highway that will facilitate the efficient transportation of goods and services from Mexico, through West Texas, New Mexico, Colorado and Oklahoma, and ultimately on into Canada and the Pacific Northwest.The arguments for developing the route are compelling. Promoters say:

>> Congestion of the Panama Canal will reach 100 percent between 2009and 2011, slowing transmission of goods to and from the Far East.

>> Saturation of the United States ports on the Pacific Coast already are resulting in delays of six to 21 days with no improvement expected. By 2010, the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are expected to reach the oversaturation point.

>> The La Entrada route is the shortest way for merchants in Asia to reach the West Coast of the United States.

>> On goods shipped one-way between Chihuahua City and Dallas-Fort Worth along La Entrada, $309 in trucking costs can be saved along with three hours of driving time and three hours in port crossing time.

Sometimes people in West Texas say they don’t want the traffic from Mexico coming through the area, Beauchamp noted.“It’s coming,” Beauchamp said of the anticipated increase in traffic through Odessa and Midland. “What we’re trying to do is be pre-emptive.”Yet for all the work toward highways, Beauchamp said the real challenge is rail service. That is why development of the South Orient line is such a priority, he said.“The main thing it all comes down to is making sure we have the infrastructure here that we need,” he said. “This is all about whether we’re going to be able to compete for rail service.”Drew Crutcher, past chairman of MOTRAN, said the very fact Family Dollar located its distribution center in Odessa was a recognition of “the importance of our area from a distribution standpoint.”He said the way goods are being brought into the United States today is growing more congested all the time.“There are many Fortune 500 companies now located in Chihuahua,” Crutcher said. “Even if the Port of Topolobampo is never completed, we still need to develop La Entrada into the State of Chihuahua, Mexico, just to deal with those companies.”

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