The Houston Ship Channel A History

Houston, Texas -- In 1837, the steamship Laura traveled from Galveston Bay up Buffalo Bayou to what is now Houston. The trip, in water no deeper than six feet, proved the bayou was navigable by sizable vessels and established a commerical link between Houston and the rest of the world. Through that link, the city of Houston was born. And through that link, the Port of Houston has become one of the world's largest ports, with more than 7,000 ships calling annually bringing goods ranging from iron to sugar for U.S. consumers. Ned Holmes, Chairman of the Port of Houston Authority described this simply when he said, "Houston...the town that built the port which built the city..."

Over the years, the growth of the Port - and of Houston - has been facilitated by local contributions and federal funds to gradually deepen and widen the Houston Ship Channel. In 1914, the waterway officially opened as a deep-water channel, at a depth of 25 feet. Since then it has been expanded to the depth of 40 feet and width of 400 feet. Currently, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, with the Port of Houston Authority as a non-federal sponsor, are working to deepen the channel to 45 feet and widen it to 530 feet.

The current expansion project - which is being paid for by local bonds and federal funds - is considered vital to the continued success of the Port, which contributes $7.7 billion in revenues to Houston's economy each year. Today, the Port is the second largest in the United States, but needs a larger channel to meet the changing demands of shippers, and safety and efficiency requirements.

The expansion will ensure safer passage of ships and barges. The Port of Houston Authority and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have incorporated construction of a barge lane into the expansion plans. Upon completion, barges will have a lane on each side of the channel allowing the larger ships to have the channel without competition form other vessels. The barge lanes are being created from the mouth of Galveston Bay up to Morgan's Point, near the entrance to Buffalo Bayou.

During the current expansion of the Houston Ship Channel, the Beneficial Uses Group, a collaboration of agencies - five federal, two state and one local - is finding environmentally responsible ways to utilize the dredged materials. The BUG is a subcommittee of the Interagency Coordination Team, a problem-solving group involved in the planning, engineering and post-project monitoring of dredged material from the ship channel and bay.

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