Road to inland port on fast track ahead of Panama Canal expansion

The Trans Texas Corridor (TTC) lives on. Texas officials and transportation industry leaders gathered in Irving for the annual Texas Transportation Summit to examine how to move people and goods faster. One of the hot topics was to fast track the Loop 9 project just south of Dallas -- a project that’s part of the original Trans Texas Corridor due to its strategic connection to the International Inland Port of Dallas. The TTC is the Texas leg of the NAFTA superhighways designed to achieve the economic integration of the United States with Canada and Mexico through trade.

Though officials gave lip service to moving people faster, it was clear the real goal of the conference was to get the coming influx of imported goods moving faster in anticipation of the Panama Canal expansion opening in 2014. Loop 9 would connect trade traffic coming up from the Port of Houston on Interstate 45 with the inland port outside Dallas as well as access from I-35E.

One of the advantages of inland ports is the ability to move the task of sorting and processing international cargo through customs inland, as well as create hubs that optimize logistics and distribution of foreign-made goods. Often referred to as an intermodal transfer, an inland port can serve as a distribution center to off-load containers from one mode of transportation to another, ie - from rail to truck. Inland ports also usually reside in markets outside urban areas, reducing labor and property costs.

Inland ports can also be a Foreign Trade Zone (FTZ). The purpose of these FTZs is to make foreign goods more competitive with domestic goods. You read that right. FTZs give foreign goods advantages over domestically made goods.

So if the inland port is also a FTZ, it’s a tremendous tax benefit for global corporations since they do not have to pay the tariff or taxes due on the goods until they leave the zone. American companies have no such advantage. They have to pay property taxes to warehouse their goods. Foreign companies shipping their goods from a FTZ to another country are also exempt from duty payments.

So a corporation can essentially house their goods on U.S. soil, duty-free only to turn around and export them out of the country, also duty-free. What a deal! Other countries can also set-up a customs office within an inland port to expedite the customs process for U.S. exporters -- all at taxpayer expense. FTZs also have special customs procedures that allow foreign companies to bypass the congestion of seaway ports and not have their cargo inspected and processed until it reaches a zone.

However, the drawbacks to taxpayers, property rights, national security, and state and national sovereignty cannot be overlooked. Taxpayers should not be footing the bill to bring foreign goods into our country. If these global corporations had to pay the true cost of bringing this cargo into the United States, then perhaps we’d see a resurgence of American manufacturing that’s been supplanted by the giveaways and special treatment of foreign goods that came on the scene with the advent of NAFTA.

It’s unclear if the land for these inland ports and FTZs was obtained through eminent domain, but one thing is known about the land on which these ports sit -- it’s no longer sovereign U.S. territory. A World Net Daily investigation in 2006 found documents stating the Kansas City Smartport inland port allowed the Mexican government to set-up a customs office within its port and said the office would “need to be designated as Mexican sovereign territory.”

So these inland ports not only threaten private property rights, they threaten U.S. sovereignty. It’s also a matter of national security when containers are not inspected until they’re well into U.S. territory. A smuggler’s dream!

Heavyweight trucks welcome?
A related topic considered at the conference by Texas officials is the matter of increasing the truck weight limits to 97,000 pounds from the current 80,000 pound limit. The super-loaded trucks expected to flood Texas highways and U.S. markets would require special approval from Congress as well as the Texas legislature and come with a heavy price to Texas taxpayers who will have to pay for the damage done by these overweight trucks.

As a matter of discussion and study by past legislatures, Texas lawmakers know that trucks cause the majority of the damage to Texas highways and yet they pay very little for the overweight truck permits -- certainly nowhere near enough to cover the increased maintenance cost to Texas roads. So lawmakers have considered increasing the permit fee to help offset that growing maintenance cost.

Now the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) seems to be continuing the virtual free pass for overweight trucks, even encouraging the trend by pushing for increased truck weight limits, and continues to shift its focus to economic development and moving goods faster, not providing roads for Texans who pay their bills. In fact, TxDOT is now signaling it’s giving priority to projects that facilitate trade connections rather than the projects that relieve congestion in urban areas that would serve the majority of Texas taxpayers.

TxDOT Executive Director Phil Wilson said it best, “We are not in the transportation business,” Wilson said. “We are in the economic development and people business. We are the artery and lifeline of how we grow our economy in this state.”

Considering TxDOT wields the power of eminent domain for the majority of its projects, it’s a frightening statement by Wilson that he sees the job of the Department to be economic development and growing the Texas economy, not building and maintaining public roads. When government gets in the business of economic development, it means eminent domain for private gain, public money for private profits, and a manipulation of the free market economy. Let the private sector grow the economy.

In yet another move that exploits the taxpayers, TxDOT will throw $50 million into the Loop 9 project -- to facilitate trade through an inland port, not for the 100 Most Congested Roads in Texas. On top of that, the City of Dallas is ponying-up $23 million in publicly-funded improvements for water and other infrastructure for the inland port.

When elected officials view taxpayer money as their personal slush fund for special interests like multi-national corporations, such crony capitalism and corruption breed contempt for taxpayers that leads to abuses and tyranny that should never be tolerated in a free Republic. Meanwhile, untold sums of public money continue to get dumped into building out the NAFTA superhighway trade corridors, under the radar without the permission of the American public. Indeed, the Trans Texas Corridor is alive and well.

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