Houston Ship Channel links to be wider, deeper

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HOUSTON (AP) — The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has granted the Port of Houston Authority permission to dredge two links to the Houston Ship Channel, to make way for bigger vessels as the lure of an expanded Panama Canal could generate more traffic.

The authority's $68 million construction plan includes deepening and widening the waterways connecting its container terminals to the ship channel, the Houston Chronicle (http://bit.ly/1o0SCzC ) reported Friday.

The Port of Houston Authority four years ago began preparing to ask the Corps for permission to dredge those 40-foot-deep channels so they would match the ship channel's depth. The 52-mile ship channel is about 45 feet deep, after a major deepening and widening project finished in 2005.

The authority on Monday announced the Corps had issued permits for the Bayport and Barbours Cut projects, pushing the depth to 45 feet. The terminals, the two busiest on the Gulf Coast, generate more than 60 percent of the port authority's annual operating revenue.

Work is expected to start later this month. Construction should be completed by mid-2015.

"This is great news," said Port Commission Chairman Janiece Longoria, "We are investing in the future of our port. The projects demonstrate our commitment to facilitating commerce."

Vice President Joe Biden last November stopped in Houston while en route to tour the Panama Canal expansion project, expected to be completed in 2016. Biden has said the expansion is likely to bring vessels carrying double or triple the amount of cargo they now transport to U.S. ports such as Houston.

Roger Guenther, executive director of the port authority, cited rapid growth of container vessels in the world market.

"The need to bring larger vessels into Houston seemed to be happening quickly, so we acted in this manner," Guenther said. "Combined with the Panama Canal, it is going to allow for larger ships and certainly increase our opportunities for being the first port of call in the Gulf from East Asia."

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Information from: Houston Chronicle, http://www.houstonchronicle.com

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