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Giant box ships face Houston Ship Channel limits

Written by Nick Blenkey
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The Houston Ship Channel is a 52-mile federal waterway that is home to the greater Port of Houston’s more than 200 private and eight public terminals

Faced with growing traffic through the Houston Ship Channel, the Port Commission of the Port of Houston Authority met in special session Monday and, as an interim measure, adopted a resolution putting some restrictions on movement of ultra large containerships through the channel.

The giant ships require “one-way traffic” operation when they transit the channel. Under the new rule, only one vessel that imposes such one-way traffic on all deep-water ships transiting the channel within Galveston Bay may call on a Port Authority terminal in a given week.

Longer term, the Port Authority is working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other representatives of the federal government, as well as Port of Houston and Houston Ship Channel stakeholders, to obtain authorization, and accelerated funding and completion, of a deepened and widened ship channel. This project will be the eleventh significant widening and deepening of the channel since its conception.

At its Monday session, the commission was briefed on measures to make sure widening of the entire Galveston Bay reach of the ship channel is part of the next Houston Ship Channel dredging project. The commission also directed staff to bring it proposals for Port Authority and industry funding to support this accelerated effort.


The commission also budgeted $500,000 to support a traffic efficiency group for the channel. This newly-formed advisory committee representing multiple channel stakeholders will meet regularly and work in partnership with the U.S. Coast Guard Houston Area Vessel Traffic Service, the Lone Star Harbor Safety Committee, the Houston Pilots, and others. The goal of the group will be to share data and insights and help optimize traffic flow on the channel, in response to continued requests for larger vessels to serve the fast-growing demand of containerized consumer imports, resin and agriculture exports, and the needs of the energy industry.

In 2018, the Houston Ship Channel generated $801 billion in U.S. economic value, supported 3.2 million jobs, and provided $38 billion in tax revenue. In the state of Texas, it generated $339 billion in economic value, sustained 1.3 million jobs, and generated $5.6 billion in state and local tax revenue.

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