The Gulf Coast Strategic Highway System is proposed as an upgrade of existing highways in Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi. The objective is to provide better connectivity between Fort Bliss, Fort Hood and Fort Polk and the strategic ports at Corpus Christi and Beaumont. These improvements are needed to address military deployment and mobility efficiency. Approximately 40% of the military equipment and supplies deployed in the ongoing war efforts have moved over the docks at Corpus Christi and Beaumont.
The proposed highway system would be built at interstate highway standard and in some places could include a dedicated freight element. It would provide new capacity for more efficiently moving consumer goods, agricultural products, food, fuel, building materials and other freight, some of it in international trade.
There is also the opportunity for these proposed Gulf Coast improvements to be part of an east-west interstate highway corridor following existing highways and spanning five states from El Paso, Texas, to Augusta, Georgia. This would add connectivity to major military installations across a total of 1,600 miles.
The concept of Interstate 14 was initiated a few years ago by federal lawmakers from Georgia who got legislation passed initiating study of an Interstate 14 Route from Augusta westward to Natchez, Mississippi. U.S. Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Mary Landrieu (D- Louisiana) and David Vitter (R-Louisiana) have proposed additional legislation to designate the route from El Paso to Augusta as a federal high priority corridor. This Congressional designation would open the door for federal funding of planning, studies, construction and addition to the Interstate System.
The Gulf Coast Strategic Highway Coalition has proposed a route through Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia that makes maximum use of existing highways. It would connect Natchez, Meridian, Montgomery, Columbus, Macon and Augusta. It would provide increased connectivity for Fort Stewart, Fort Gordon, Fort Benning, Marine Logistics Base Albany, Robbins AFB and Fort Rucker, along with the major National Guard facilities at Camp Shelby, Mississippi, and Camp Beauregard at Pineville, Louisiana. This route would provide an important alternative for long-haul freight traffic in the Southeast and relieve some of the truck traffic congestion in the Atlanta metropolitan area. (View PDF of map)
Repeated hurricane damage to Interstate 10 and other major highways on the Gulf Coast in recent years have exposed the need for additional east-west capacity further inland where it is unlikely to be interrupted by major storm damage. Bridge and highway sections in Florida, Mississippi and Louisiana suffered major damage during 2004 and 2005.
The Gulf Coast Strategic Highway will add needed east-west capacity while reducing the load being carried by I-10 and I-20. At the same time it would provide new capacity outside of non-attainment or near non-attainment areas under the Federal Clean Air Act that are situated on I-10 and I-20. This new capacity could provide the very important benefit of moving some long haul traffic away from non-attainment areas in both Texas and Louisiana.
This multi-state alternative will also provide opportunities for economic development and growth for dozens of communities, some of which have not participated in much of the growth of the past two decades.
Strategic Military Ports
The Port of Corpus Christi was designated as a Strategic Deployment Port in 1998. Dozens of shiploads of equipment have been sent to and returned from the Iraqi theater since 2003.
The Port has excellent waterfront facilities including roll on/roll off docks on both the north and south sides of the Corpus Christi Inner Harbor. The Port also has acres of off-dock areas suitable for assembling cargoes and taking a surge of cargo when a ship is unloaded.
Interstate 37 and U.S. Highway 181 come to within blocks of these docks. On-dock rail service is available and was used extensively in the 2003 deployment of the 4th Infantry Division.
The Port of Beaumont has been busy with Army deployments since 2003 and has been a military deployment port for decades.
The Gulf Coast Strategic Highway System is envisioned to have a dedicated freight element in Texas and to Leesville, Louisiana. This could take the form of commercial rail facilities, special truck lanes or other improvements.
The Coalition believes a new technology – the Universal Freight Shuttle – shows great promise for providing this dedicated freight component. The freight shuttle concept was developed by the Texas Transportation Institute (TTI) at College Station and is being commercialized by Freight Shuttle International, LLC. This system could be used for moving both equipment and containerized cargo for the military. The current design would allow transport of all Army and Marine rolling equipment except the 63-ton Abrams battle tank and Bradley Fighting Vehicle.
The Universal Freight Shuttle consists of electrically powered vehicles that travel on a specialized, derailment-proof elevated guideway similar to the "people movers" operating at some major airports and cities. In most cases the elevated guideways could be located in existing highway rights-of-way.
Researchers say the major benefits include low operational costs, improved safety and the promise of congestion relief. It will be a fully automated freight transportation system designed to operated at a top speed of 62 mph. It will be able to move standard shipping containers or over-the-road trailers between terminal points. More information about the Universal Freight Shuttle is available (HERE) from FSI.
The Gulf Coast Strategic Highway Coalition supports the development of the freight shuttle and believes it would be a valuable asset for military mobility and for enhancing the commercial economic development prospects of communities along the corridor.