Chicago West on the North Saskatchewan
Edmonton poised to become transport hub -- if it makes the right moves
The Edmonton Journal
Thursday, December 07, 2006
EDMONTON - Edmonton could become a multi-pronged transportation hub similar to Chicago if the right moves are made in developing infrastructure, business leaders say.
But it means being proactive in applying for duty-free port status, moving faster on finishing the ring road and other highway improvements, and lobbying for even more development of the Prince Rupert port facility.
And the capital area must work together on a unified transportation plan, even so far as forming a regional transportation authority, Edmonton chamber of commerce chairman Jackson von der Ohe said.
While the completion of the southwest portion of the Anthony Henday ring road is welcome, if overdue, the pressure must be kept on the provincial government to complete the northern section by the promised 2011, he said.
And the city must complete the inner-loop upgrades as soon as possible, including the 23rd Avenue-Calgary Trail intersection, 170th Street, 121st Street, the Yellowhead Highway and the St. Albert Trail-Yellowhead intersection.
And combining all these projects with the establishment of a port in Edmonton would create a world-class transportation centre, von der Ohe said.
"An Alberta port in Edmonton as a centre for rail, road, pipe and air would put another leg under our table and we wouldn't be so dependent on oil and gas."
Chicago has become a U.S. hub for imports and exports, rail, and oil and gas pipelines, and there's no reason Edmonton couldn't do the same.
It's critical the port be duty free so containers can be broken apart and repacked with value-added goods, von der Ohe said.
It would a be designated area with rail access, where you could store goods, repackage them into smaller parcels and add value without paying customs or tariffs until the container reaches its destination.
The value-added part is especially important for local businesses, he said.
The chamber met with federal Tory caucus members two weeks ago, and although it was a new concept to them, they were "quite interested," von der Ohe said.
"We've got a beautiful rail line to a beautiful deep sea port in Prince Rupert. And while what CN is doing there in building container facility is great, much more needs to be done there."
See TRANSPORT / back of section
We should be looking at Europe and Asia where automation and robotics is making the loading and unloading of ships so much faster, he said. A supership can be unloaded in the Netherlands in 18-22 hours, while in Canada it takes 12-16 days.
Von der Ohe agrees it's a huge and expensive undertaking to pull all the elements together, but it's critical to competing on a global level.
And we can't wait for demand to drive development, as we have in the past, he said.
"If you build the infrastructure the business will come. That's what's happened in other parts of the world. Dubai has become a busy world class duty free port because it built the facilities and the demand followed."
Asian shippers already are using the Panama and Suez Canals to get goods to North America rather than the jammed up ports on the west coast of U.S.
And because Prince Rupert is 36 hours closer that any other North American port, there's a tremendous opportunity for Edmonton to be a key part of the chain, said Brian McCready, Alberta vice-president of Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters. (CME).
Governments dragging their feet in bringing our highways up to snuff has hurt our manufacturing sector, he said.
"Exporting is the lifeblood of manufacturing in Edmonton, and we need seamless, highly efficient transportation corridors robust enough to stand up to the high traffic."
"How we get the goods around Edmonton is also important, and we've moved too slowly in the past."
McCready agrees a port in Edmonton would speed up the whole export and import process, and provide better access to China, Chicago and the rest of the U.S.
Edmonton Airports recently proposed a "Port Alberta" on its lands at the international that would pull together air, road and rail to ship through Prince Rupert and Vancouver.
But CN already has a new intermodal yard in the west end, and CP plans to develop one south of the city to replace its 99th Street facility.
John Vickerman, a principle with U.S. ports consultants TranSystems Corp., said Canada is well-positioned to compete with U.S. railways and ports to move goods quickly across the continent.
If the federal government put money into fixing transportation choke points, more intermodal traffic could move across the continent from the new container ports at Prince Rupert and Canso Strait, N.S., he said.
U.S. shipping companies complain containers get stalled in a "two-day black hole" in Chicago waiting to be transferred from the western U.S. rail network to eastern lines.
"This is an emerging transcontinental network. The irresistible flow of Asian product is going to come at you from the West Coast or go around. It's going to go wherever it's going to be best served as distribution."
A study at the port of Tacoma in Washington showed that building inland transfer ports could relieve pressure at coastal facilities and speed the movement of containers. And ports in such places as Edmonton, Saskatoon or Regina could take the pressure off Vancouver, where high land prices make expanding dockside capacity very expensive.
Vickerman said CN and CP could be moving 10 times their current intermodal traffic by 2020 as the expected increase in the number of containers arriving in North America will exceed current capacity at U.S. ports by 200 per cent. And the success of a port at Kansas City, Missouri that serves overcrowded Long Beach, California proves it's a viable proposition.
© The Edmonton Journal 2006