Accelerating Houston Ship Channel Expansion for Regional Economic and Environmental Benefits
The Houston Ship Channel is a federally authorized deep draft navigation channel that serves the greater Houston region. It is the busiest waterway in the U.S., with more than 9,000 deep draft and 200,000 barge transits per year. The eight public terminals and more than 200 private facilities along the 52-mile ship channel collectively are recognized as the nation’s number one port for waterborne tonnage, support more than three million United States jobs, and generate $906 billion in national economic benefits.
As the local advocate of the Houston Ship Channel, Port Houston is working now for the future needs of vessels and businesses served by the channel. Along with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers-Galveston District, Port Houston is carrying out the Houston Ship Channel Expansion, also known as Project 11, at an unprecedented pace.
Project 11, the 11th major improvement project in Houston Ship Channel history, includes six segments, twelve major construction packages, and a focus on beneficial use of the new work dredged material. Major project features include widening the channel by 170 feet (from 530 to 700 feet) along its Galveston Bay reach, widening the Bayport and Barbours Cut Channels to 455 feet, deepening some upstream segments up to 46.5 feet, making other safety and efficiency improvements (i.e., bend easings), and constructing new environmental features.
On the environmental front, Port Houston and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers ("USACE") have committed nearly 100% of the non-silt material dredged — equating to more than 15 million cubic yards— from the Galveston Bay portion of Project 11 to create approximately 10 acres of bird islands, 800 acres of marsh, and 324 acres of oyster reefs. In addition, Project 11 is expected to improve regional air quality by between 3% and 7% by increasing the efficiency of vessel movements and reducing congestion in the channel.
Under Port Houston’s accelerated plan, upland site preparation commenced in 2021, dredging began in April 2022, and Project 11 is currently on track for completion at the end of 2026, subject to additional federal funding.
The chart below provides a high-level summary of the completed and upcoming Project 11 construction packages.
As of September 2023, 83 percent of the total project is funded. Port Houston contributions and federal appropriations for the project total $772.7 million to date — $600 million advanced by Port Houston, $19.5 million in federal funds for the “new start” designation in 2021, $142.5 million of 2022 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) funding, and $10.7 million included in the 2023 USACE-Galveston District Work Plan. An additional $178 million or more of federal funding is still needed by our Galveston District partners to design and construct the upstream segments 4 to 6.
Simply put, the improvements being designed and constructed by Port Houston and USACE should help ensure that the Houston Ship Channel continues to safely provide for the continued growth of our maritime commerce, benefitting the many users of the channel, the facilities alongside it, and the local, state, and national economy.