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Port of Houston Busiest US Port in Tonnage as Expansion Continues

Port of Houston busiest in tonnage and expanding
Port of Houston (file photo)

Published Nov 24, 2020 12:10 PM by The Maritime Executive

The Port of Houston is now the largest port complex in the US in terms of total tonnage passing through the port. The complex of public and private terminals along the Houston Ship Channel was the busiest U.S. port in 2019 surpassing the Port of South Louisiana, according to data from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Navigation and Civil Works Decision Support Center.

The Texas port ranked first both in terms of total tonnage as well as ranked first for foreign waterborne tonnage and number of vessel transits, in the government compiled statistics. For 24 years, the Port of Houston has been number one in foreign waterborne tonnage and the Houston Ship Channel is the busiest waterway in the nation, handling on average approximately 50 deep water vessels per day

Nearly 285 million tons of cargo moved through the Port of Houston in 2019. That represented a six percent increase year-over-year and about 47 million tons more than any other U.S. port. 

Houston has continued to see strong growth in its operations reporting its busiest month ever with a 15 percent year-over-year increase in container volume in October 2020. That included an 18 percent increase in loaded containers driven according to the port in large part by the increase in traffic from retailers working to restock before the holiday selling season. Year to date, the port’s volume is down one percent despite the economic impact of the pandemic.

The Port Commission is expecting continued growth with a rebound in traffic in 2021. They recently approved the 2021 Operating and Capital Budget which forecasts a six percent growth in container volumes and a recovery in general cargo volumes. The budget also includes a $239 million capital plan to support new growth opportunities, primarily at the container terminals, with investments in the redevelopment of existing assets as well.

Port Houston currently is partnering with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as well as private industry on a plan to expand the channel with a goal of starting work in 2021. The Houston Ship Channel Expansion – Project 11 will widen the channel by 170 feet along its Galveston Bay reach, from 530 feet to 700 feet. It will also deepen upstream segments to 45 feet, make other safety and efficiency improvements, and craft new environmental features.

The Port of Houston is comprised of eight public terminals and almost 200 private terminals situated along the Houston Ship Channel.