Southern Dallas inland port, Panama Canal link still viable
From the Dallas Morning News
An inland port moving containers from rails to warehouses to trucks remains a driver for economic development in southern Dallas, says an executive with Intermodal Cartage, a trucking firm with container yards in Wilmer and Haslet.
The International Inland Port of Dallas hasn’t been in the news much since developer Richard Allen filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on his 6,000-acre development there in January 2010. Allen says he hopes to emerge from bankruptcy this summer, possibly with a partner. Meanwhile, Whirlpool and American Standard have announced warehouse projects in the area.
Intermodal Cartage, a firm based entirely on international trade, has built up its Wilmer site while watching Panama expand its canal.
“We believe this area is going to take off with the canal,” said Harrison Hoof, executive vice president of Intermodal Cartage.
Most containers coming from China and other Asian exporters enter the U.S. market at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, Calif. They are then mounted on trains heading east to inland ports such as Chicago, Kansas City, Alliance Texas in Fort Worth and the Union Pacific (UNP) yard in Wilmer.
Expanding the Panama Canal will allow very large ships carrying as many as 12,000 containers to bypass California and sail on to the Gulf of Mexico or the Atlantic. That should increase traffic at ports like Houston.
From Houston, railroads could bring many of the containers to warehouses and trucking firms in southern Dallas. Exports of Texas cotton and other goods could travel the same route in reverse.
“The I-45 corridor is going to be a key part of the all-water route from Asia. It’s just a matter of time,” Hoof said. “It’s a great business opportunity in this area.”
Share of the pie
By now, this is a familiar expectation. Before the recession caught up with Dallas at the end of 2008, the International Inland Port of Dallas was moving on a wave of optimism that, finally, southern Dallas and its neighbors would get their share of the North Texas economic pie.
The main attractions are still in place: Union Pacific Railroad’s intermodal terminal in Wilmer, Interstates 20, 45 and 35E, and lots of available land.
During the recession, Texas remained the nation’s leading exporter, but volumes of both U.S. imports and exports fell sharply. Cost pressures eased for shippers relying on the California ports.
While BNSF Railway carries plenty of those container cargoes to Alliance Texas in Fort Worth, some of that California rail traffic arrives daily at Union Pacific’s Wilmer yard.
The existing assets were enough to attract Whirlpool and American Standard, who struck deals for giant warehouse facilities in Wilmer and Hutchins last year with Duke Realty.
“We believe in the area,” said Jeff Thornton, Duke’s senior vice president for Dallas operations. “If they’re able to get an inland port in place down there, no question, it would add to the attraction of area.”
Thornton said he expects the expansion of the canal and rising volumes of trade to propel southern Dallas in the future, but, right now, “the area’s still in its infancy.”
Allen said the recession “slowed down the process a lot more than all of us had hoped,” but “the vision hasn’t changed a bit.”
Intermodal Cartage, headquartered in Memphis, Tenn., bought 100 acres in Wilmer in January. It handles thousands of containers in both Wilmer and Haslet, but the bulk of its traffic is in Wilmer.
“Once those volumes start through the canal — it’s three years away, but when customers look to setting up distribution networks, this area will definitely take off,” Hoof said.
Posted: April 6, 2011