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Port Houston surges to 5th place among U.S. container terminals

From left during the GHPB Annual Meeting are Christine Schlenker with GHPB; Col. Rhett Blackmon with USACE; Capt. Keith Donohue with U.S. Coast Guard; Capt. Clint Winegar with Houston Pilots; Roger Guenther with Port Houston; Judge Ed Emmett with Rice University; Vincent DiCosimo with Targa Resources and Bernt Netland with Intercontinental Terminals Company.

Posted on March 4, 2024

Port Houston has leapt from being the number seven container terminal in the country to number five and it is continuing to grow with key exports including plastics and petrochemicals, along with 60% of the polyethylene resins produced in the U.S.

Roger Guenther, executive director with Port Houston Authority, told attendees during the recent Greater Houston Port Bureau Annual Meeting that Port Houston has weathered numerous challenges and is moving forward strongly.

“We are in the midst of historic demand after the pandemic and back-to-back years of double-digit, 15% growth,” Guenther told the attendees. “Back then we were talking about the challenges in the supply chain, with the ships sitting out that were waiting to get in and wondering whether we’re going to have Christmas toys on the shelf. A lot has changed since then.”

Guenther said the port did a study on its economic impact in 2022 versus four years earlier, and it showed $100 billion dollars in economic impact for the nation, 300,000 more jobs produced in the state of Texas and $439 billion generated in Texas.

“The Houston Ship Channel is the most important waterway in the country in terms of tonnage and number of ships,” he said to the energy industry audience. “It’s all generated in and around what our people do in our industry along the channel. So it’s still very significant.

“We are handling 30% more volume than we did three years ago. We’re continuing to invest in infrastructure. We’re trying to get ahead of the demand curve and we’re building more docks faster than we had planned to do.”

The Bayport Container Terminal opened in August 2023 with new Neo-Panamax container cranes that will be able to serve large ships coming through the Panama Canal, Guenther said. The port is making investments now to accommodate bigger ships.

“There’s a pent-up demand for the Neo-Panamax ships. They can’t call here today until we widen and right now, they’re going to the East Coast and the West Coast,” he said.

Guenther gave a quick update on the progress of the Houston Ship Channel Expansion Project 11 — a longtime undertaking to make improvements to the internationally significant waterway that connects the nation’s largest petrochemical complex to the globe. The waterway has more deep-draft ship visits than any other port in the country and nearly 200,000 barge transits every year as well. As energy and manufacturing exports increase and vessel sizes grow, improving the channel is nationally important.

“The project is going well; on schedule, and most importantly, on budget,” Guenther added.

As the local sponsor of this crucial federal waterway, Port Houston is partnering with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to expand the channel.

When complete, the expansion will widen the channel by 170 feet along its Galveston Bay reach, from 530 feet to 700 feet. It will also deepen some upstream segments to 46.5 feet, make other safety and efficiency improvements and craft new environmental features.

As an added note, Guenther said the port recently announced a move to a new six-story office building with a parking garage in the historic Fifth Ward and the emerging East River mixed-use development.

“We’re not moving to just move; our current building is just too small,” he said. “We’re out of space and we don’t have room for our people now. It’s going to be a nice showplace for the board and we welcome y’all to come join us there.”


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