Deer Park Broadcaster/HCN 7/1/14 12:46 pm By Y.C. Orozco

The Texas Transportation Commission and the Texas Dept. of Transportation held a series of public events last week to highlight the importance of the Port of Houston and its place as a major import/export port in the U.S.
Following a tour Wednesday morning of the Houston Ship Channel, the commission hosted a workshop in Kemah providing updates on several projects, including the Development Act (WRDA), the Brazos River Floodgates, the Port’s maritime systems and various roadway construction projects.
“It’s been very exciting to see TxDOT create a maritime division and we’re pleased that it has been very active,” Texas Transportation Commissioner Jeff Moseley said. “It was my pleasure to team up with them and learn about how dynamic the ports are in this state.”
Moseley called the ports a ‘gateway’ to the state’s $1.5 trillion economy and reiterated how TxDOT can ‘more formally’ partner with the ports financially. Moseley also referred to an upcoming ‘timely’ vote pertaining to an improvement on the Gulf Intracoastal Waterways which include the upgrading of locks.
“It’s a very timely vote given the demands for capacity on our ports,” he said.
Those demands, Moseley said, have to do with population explosion and fracking, where there is a demand on the ports for crude oil going in and out of refineries, and the increasingly robust Mexican economy.
According to a port report review, between 2007 and 2011, Texas public ports have ranked at the top: second in the U.S. in total tonnage for cargo handled and foreign cargo shipped; first in foreign cargo tonnage received and for intrastate maritime tonnage.
Dan Harmon, director of the Maritime Division, provided a summary of goals in that division.
“Our mission statement is to help the development of high value growth in the Texas maritime system and economic development,” he said.
One of the key initiatives to promote those goals includes an analysis of WRDA in relation to Texas.
“We’ve been taking a look at the WRDA legislation to see what the benefits are for Texas,” Harmon said.
The Port Capital Program is in the process of updating with a more “proactive” approach.
“In the past, it has been a collection of projects the ports would like to do, and there hasn’t had a lot of action on it,” Harmon said. “We believe part of that is that it has not been presented as a business case, it hasn’t had a return-on-investment attached to it.”
As part of the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway Master Plan, projects include addressing the safety and efficiency of the Brazos River Floodgates, which were built in 1940s when barges were towed instead of pushed. The structure is outdated and cannot accommodate today’s waterway operations.
Mike Alfred, the Houston District engineer, presented an overview of the four ports within the Houston District: Ports of Houston, Galveston, Texas City and Freeport.
“All those ports have special things they do for this region and this country,” he said.
Roadway projects impacting movement of good to and from the Port of Houston include:
The proposed $11.7 million SH 146 NB direct connector at BNSF/Port Rd with an estimated completion in winter, 2015.
The completed BS 146 overlay from Wharton Wheems to Fairmont Parkway.
The completion of all four connectors at the SH Spur 330/146 intersection.
The building of a section of different overpasses along 146 to eliminate traffic lights.
Alfred provided an update on the work from SH 146 Red Bluff in Seabrook to FM 518 in Kemah, which includes three construction sites:
Red Bluff to NASA Rd 1.
NASA Rd 1 to Harris/Galveston Line.
Harris/Galveston County line to FM 518.
During the open comment portion which closed the workshop, representatives from the Katy Prairie Conservancy were invited to speak on their concerns of the proposed Texas 36A, which would include the construction of a highway linking Port Freeport, Brazoria and Fort Bend County to Waller County and points north.
That construction would cut through the Katy Prairie property, which includes approximately 20,000 acres of wildlife and grassland west of Houston.
“Roads can move, nature cannot,” said conservancy director Mary Anne Piacentini.
Last week’s workshops and public meetings concluded at the Bayport Cruise Terminal on Thursday with the Texas Transportation Commission monthly meeting.

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