Houston Breaks Ground for Long Anticipated Channel Expansion 

Houston Ship Channel expansion
Preparation are begining for the expansion project for the Houston Ship Channel (Port of Houston)

Published May 11, 2021 7:45 PM by The Maritime Executive

After a decade of planning, the Port of Houston held a ceremonial groundbreaking for the multi-year project that will widen and deepen the 52-mile Houston Ship Channel. According to port officials, the nearly billion-dollar project will create safer and more efficient navigation for the ships and vessels, calling at the more than 200 private and eight public terminals that comprise the Port of Houston.

The nation’s busiest waterway, the Houston Ship Channel connects the industrial operations surrounding Houston as well as the oil, gas, and container shipping industries with Galveston Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. Annually, they report that there are nearly 9,000 vessel calls for a total of over 20,000 ship movements in the port. 

The full scope of the project is divided into six segments and two subsegments. Along its Galveston Bay reach, the Houston Ship Channel will be widened by 170 feet, from 530 feet to 700 feet. The project will also deepen upstream segments to 45 feet, make other safety and efficiency improvements, and craft new environmental features.

“Our port serves as the anchor for the Texas region,” Port Houston Chairman Ric Campo said. “Expanding the Houston Ship Channel to accommodate the growth of vessel calls, vessel sizes, and cargo needs for customers and consumers will continue providing over 3.2 million jobs and $802 billion in economic value to the nation.”

In addition to the growth in the energy and manufacturing industries, the port also highlights the expansion of the Panama Canal as contributing to the growth in traffic and demands on the ship channel. For example, they note since 2006 and 2007 the length of LPG carriers has increased 28 percent while the average length of containerships has increased by more than 20 percent. 

Improvements to the Houston Ship Channel are vital to maintaining safe navigation, providing for two-way traffic, and removing areas that require increasingly dangerous maneuvers from the larger ships.

“As we begin construction of Project 11, we have a glimpse into the future we are building,” said the port’s Executive Director Roger Guenther. “This project will enable vessels to deliver goods to our doorsteps, export USA-made cargo around the world, provide safe passage for thousands of ships, and shape the livelihoods of millions of Americans for generations to come.”

Congress authorized the Houston Ship Channel Expansion, known as Project 11, in December 2020. The first construction contract was awarded by Port Houston at the April commission meeting and will prepare the site to receive dredge material as the channel is expanded. In addition, more than half of the total $24 million in contracts approved by the commission’s April 2021 meeting were to support Project 11 efforts.