PANAMA – Some Texas leaders worry that the state is about to miss a big economic opportunity made possible by the $5.2 billion expansion of the Panama Canal.
By 2015, the waterway linking the Atlantic and Pacific oceans will add another lane, moving larger ships with more cargo at lower prices.
"The canal opens opportunity to every country, basically,” said Alberto Alemán Zubieta, the former administrator of the canal and a Texas A&M grad.
That's why the world is paying such close attention –– as is North Texas.
A steady stream of politicians and transportation leaders have visited the Panama Canal expansion site to see for themselves. Some have left with a major concern: that the Dallas/Fort Worth Area is not ready to seize the potential of this opportunity.
"Are we ready? In a sense, no we're not ready,” said Tim Welch a councilman for North Richland Hills who serves on the North Texas Regional Transportation Council. He recently visited the canal expansion project.
"Everything else will have to be improved to handle that additional capacity,” Welch said.
Welch worries other Gulf Coast states are anticipating new imports through the canal by adding modernized ports, highways and rail.
"Is Texas anticipating? Based on the powers that be right now, we're still looking at it,” he said.
Not everyone agrees with Welch’s assessment, but a new report from the Texas Department of Transportation does find the canal represents an opportunity "to expand Texas' position as a global gateway for the nation."
And it makes seven major recommendations to prepare the state's infrastructure, like deepening ports and adding more rail connections.
As former canal administrator Aleman Zubieta put it: "Infrastructure as a whole are long-term investments. This is not short-term investments."