Port Houston, tucked inland from the northwest corner of the Gulf of Mexico, has broken ground to start construction to widen and deepen the 52-mile Houston Ship Channel, the passage for ships from the Gulf to the port.
Known as Project 11, the nearly billion-dollar dredging project will provide for safer and more efficient navigation for the vessels calling the more than 200 private and eight public terminals that comprise the Port of Houston. It will also better enable the port to accommodate post-Panamax ships. “Specifically, the project will widen the channel by 170 feet along its Galveston Bay reach, from 530 feet to 700 feet. It will also deepen segments up to 46.5 feet, make other safety and efficiency improvements, and craft new environmental features,” notes a Port Houston blog post.
In a white paper released in May 2020, the port noted that the Houston Ship Channel receives about 9,000 ship calls each year, “which translates to more than 20,000 ship movements, plus more than 200,000 barge movements. This is nearly equal to the next three busiest ports combined – Long Beach, Los Angeles, and New York/New Jersey.”
The paper stated that, “Without full widening to accommodate the increasing vessel sizes and growing traffic, the channel will become a one-way and daylight-restricted waterway.”
The first contract, awarded at an April Port Commission meeting, is for construction to prepare the site to receive dredge material as the channel is expanded. The material will be used to create an intertidal marsh in an area of 350 acres in the bay.
The port is working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to expedite project delivery as much as possible. Charlie Jenkins, senior director of strategic programs and asset management at the port, said in February that the partners expect to “take years off the overall process,” with completion expected in 2026.