President Donald Trump is expected to sign on Tuesday a massive relief and federal spending package passed by Congress late Monday that authorizes major port expansion projects and opens $1 billion in funds for harbor maintenance dredging.
The port funding legislation, the biennial Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), was part of a $1.4 trillion fiscal year 2021 appropriations omnibus bill that also contains $900 billion in emergency COVID-19 relief and program funding for the U.S. Department of Transportation and other federal agencies.
WRDA formally authorized the expansion of the Houston Ship Channel, known as Project 11, an $885 million project that will allow for two-way traffic of next-generation-size containerships.
“The authorization to widen and deepen the Houston Ship Channel is big for our region, the state of Texas and our nation,” commented Port of Houston Executive Director Roger Guenther. The project is expected to improve regional air quality by increasing the efficiency of vessel movements and reducing congestion.
Along with the port’s eight public terminals, there are more than 200 private facilities along the channel, “and many of these stakeholders have actively participated in driving the expansion project forward,” Guenther said.
The latest WRDA bill included reauthorization of another ship channel project, at the Port of Corpus Christi, roughly 200 miles south of the Port of Houston. The $676 million project will widen the channel and increase its depth from 47 feet to 54 feet.
“The inclusion of the Water Resources Development Act in this latest omnibus is a nod to all ports in the nation and certainly the Port of Corpus Christi in particular,” said Port of Corpus Christi CEO Sean Strawbridge. “An improved ship channel will solidify U.S. energy exports to our allies and trading partners for decades to come.”
The American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA) pointed out that the latest version of WRDA includes reforms that more fairly allocate and spend revenues from the Harbor Maintenance Tax (HMT).
“This historic, landmark legislation has been at the forefront of AAPA’s advocacy efforts for decades to improve America’s economy, infrastructure and competitiveness,” said AAPA President and CEO Christopher Connor.
Connor said this year’s legislation was especially significant because Congress agreed to allow spending down the approximately $9.3 billion balance in the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF), a tax by import shippers based on cargo value that is used to maintain harbor depths for increasingly larger ships calling at U.S. ports.
The spend-down starts at $500 million in year one to address the significant backlog in navigation maintenance work throughout the country, Connor said. “After that, WRDA provides an additional $100 million a year in spending until it reaches $1 billion in year five.”
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