To accommodate increasing cargo activity, Texas ports are proactively beefing up on-port infrastructure while multiple projects to deliver deeper ship channels are advancing as well.

Much of the record-level action is associated with energy industries, as well as benefits of proximity to Mexico.

Texas has the most Foreign-Trade Zone activity of any state and is home to six of the 20 busiest U.S. ports as measured by total cargo tonnage handled, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers: Houston (No. 1), Corpus Christi (No. 3), Beaumont (No. 7), Port Arthur (No. 15), Texas City (No. 17) and Freeport (No. 19).

Starting just west of the Louisiana-Texas line and heading generally southwestward along the Gulf of Mexico, toward the U.S.-Mexico border, here is a port-by-port summary of what’s happening at key ports of the Lone Star State:

Port of Port Arthur
A significant expansion of Berth 6 facilities at the Port of Port Arthur is advancing toward targeted completion this summer.

Port of Port Arthur

At the Port of Port Arthur, where forest products remain leading commodities, a major expansion of Berth 6 facilities is moving forward toward targeted completion in July. The $67 million project, supported by U.S. Department of Transportation grant funding, is constructing an open berth designed to meet current and pending export and import needs while reducing congestion. The new, 1,000-foot-long general purpose wharf deck is being augmented by on-dock rail loading facilities and other improvements, including a 5-acre laydown yard for outdoor holding of steel, aluminum, heavy equipment and military and project cargos. Backland improvements are advancing as well.

A year ago, the Port of Port Arthur completed a $42 million expansion of its Berth 5 facilities, adding 600 linear feet of dock space at that installation, while upcoming endeavors include renovations to port terminal offices.

Meanwhile, liquefied natural gas exporter Sempra Infrastructure and engineering firm Bechtel are moving ahead with construction of the first phase of the $13 billion Port Arthur LNG export facility, with an eye toward commencing initial commercial operations of the first liquefaction train in 2027.

Port of Beaumont
The newly completed Main Street Terminal 1 dock reconstruction offers an enhanced Port of Beaumont facility for moving military cargos.

Port of Beaumont

A little farther up the Sabine-Neches Waterway in the Golden Triangle of Southeast Texas, about 40 miles inland from the Gulf of Mexico, the Port of Beaumont is busy completing construction this year of more than $157 million of infrastructure projects.

The most ambitious undertaking, completed in April, is an $85 million reconstruction at Main Street Terminal 1. Built by McCarthy Building Companies Inc., the modernized terminal adds 1,140 linear feet of berthing at a facility primarily used for movement of U.S. military cargos.

A $35 million liquid bulk dock, built by Bo-Mac Contractors Ltd., was added last year in Orange County by private partner Jefferson Energy Companies LLC, offering capabilities for berthing Suezmax tankers transporting crude and refined products, Also, $12.3 million construction of a new rail interchange track is nearing completion by Trans-Global Solutions Inc., boding to double the Port of Beaumont’s interchange capacity with addition of 10,700 feet of new track, upgrades of existing track and installation of 12 new switches. And Russell Marine LLC is looking to finish a $25 million grain dock by late 2024.

Port Houston
Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Co.’s Carolina advances the Houston Ship Channel Expansion Project (Photo credit: Port Houston).

Port Houston

With March award to Callan Marine Ltd. of the final Project 11 dredge contract, the $1.1 billion undertaking to deepen the Houston Ship Channel to 46.5 feet, as well as widen the nation’s busiest waterway in terms of cargo tonnage transiting, continues to press toward targeted completion by the end of 2025.

Recent delivery to Port Houston’s Bayport Container Terminal of six environmentally friendly, hybrid-electric rubber-tired gantries brings to 147 the total number of RTGs at Port Houston’s two container terminals while advancing the port’s commitment to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. This summer, three new ship-to-shore cranes are slated for delivery to Port Houston, to bring to 32 the number of STS units at the two box terminals.

At Port Houston’s Barbours Cut Container Terminal, container yards 4 North and 5 North have undergone improvements, including placement of strengthened concrete surfaces to boost longevity, plus addition of truck bypass lanes, enhancing safety and cargo-handling efficiency as Port Houston looks to accommodate cargo volumes increasing at double-digit pace. Rises in consumer good imports and resin exports are leading the way.

Port of Galveston

Situated at the entrance to Galveston Bay and the Houston Ship Channel, just 45 minutes from open seas, the 840-acre Port of Galveston is undergoing more than $200 million in capital improvements to accommodate growth in cargo and cruise sectors.

In late April, the Galveston Wharves Board of Trustees approved a $29.9 million contract with Texas Gulf Construction Co. Inc. for the first phase of an estimated $90 million in improvements at the West Port Cargo Complex. The overall work, to be completed in 2026, looks to enclose and fill slip areas and provide a 1,426-linear-foot berth from Pier 38/39 to Pier 40/41. Future phases are to include paving and other enhancements.

In addition, a decommissioned grain elevator is being demolished to make way for more cargo-handling and laydown space, and the port’s Foreign-Trade Zone No. 36 has been expanded to accommodate imports of hundreds of massive wind energy turbine units, which are offloaded from ships and placed on specially designed railcars and tractor-trailers for transport to central U.S. and Canadian destinations. Furthermore, a fourth cruise terminal is being built.

Port Freeport
Port Freeport’s recently expanded Berth 8 facility offers ample space for handling cargo from roll-on/roll-off vessels, containerships and other vessels.

Port Freeport

About 50 miles southwest of Galveston along the Gulf of Mexico, 60 highway miles south of Houston, Port Freeport is getting a deeper channel and expanded container terminal while signing agreements to propel imports of vehicles and tropical fruits.

With 2023 award of a $157.4 million contract to Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Co., the Freeport Harbor Channel Improvement Project looks to achieve depths between 51 feet and 56 feet along Port Freeport’s shortest-in-the-Gulf, 7.5-mile channel. At the port’s container terminal, Berth 8 expansion has delivered a 927-foot-long berth extension and 85-foot roll-on/roll-off platform, with two super-post-Panamax gantries slated for commissioning in 2025. Also, rail improvements have extended available storage track to 35,000 linear feet.

Volkswagen Group of America has inked a pact for development of a 125-acre terminal, designed to handle annual throughput of 140,000 vehicles, including imports from Europe and Mexico. Fresh Del Monte Produce Inc. is to begin offering weekly Port Freeport calls in July, bringing in bananas, pineapples and plantains. And Freeport Warehouse LLC aims to complete a chilled cross-dock facility by the end of 2024.

Aransas Terminal
Bulk cargo is unloaded from a vessel at Dock 2 of Aransas Terminal, near the Corpus Christi Ship Channel’s entrance.

Aransas Terminal

Located on Harbor Island, near the entrance to the Corpus Christi Ship Channel, only 3 miles from open Gulf of Mexico waters, Aransas Terminal looks to benefit from February approval by U.S. Customs and Border Protection of extension of the footprint of Foreign-Trade Zone No. 122 to include the 219-acre private terminal. Originally requested to accommodate a shipper seeking a staging area for cargo being re-exported to Canada, the extended FTZ is also serving oil and gas companies that receive and store imported goods for use on drilling projects in foreign waters.

Offshore wind energy interests are now eyeing Aransas Terminal for their staging activities as well, to join those of importers of wind turbine components destined for inland wind farms. Several major original equipment manufacturers of wind energy units have scheduled 2024 activity at the terminal and have promised to continue to use the facility in 2025.

Recent modifications to the north end of Aransas Terminal’s 1,200-linear-foot harbor area facilitate staging of intracoastal barge tows that are awaiting loading dock availability at the Port of Corpus Christi’s Inner Harbor.

Port of Corpus Christi
A tanker vessel departs the Port of Corpus Christi, touted as the nation’s leading export gateway for U.S.-produced energy products.

Port of Corpus Christi

Billed as the nation’s leading export gateway for U.S.-produced energy products, the Port of Corpus Christi is enhancing on-port infrastructure while looking to soon benefit from a deeper harbor and considerably taller U.S. Highway 181 bridge over its entrance.

Improvements are being made to docks handling bulk cargos, oil and wind energy components and other breakbulk commodities, while separate undertakings, to be finished by 2025, aim to finally deliver a 205-foot-clearance Harbor Bridge over the port’s Inner Harbor entrance and to make the Corpus Christi Ship Channel the deepest – at 54 feet – and widest ship channel along the entire U.S. Gulf. Oil Dock 1 is to be the first facility on the Inner Harbor to benefit from the deeper channel, according to port officials.

Following last year’s mid-contract resignation of Sean Strawbridge in a controversial move yielding him a $1.6 million separation package, certified public accountant Kent Britton, formerly the port’s chief financial officer, has assumed the position of chief executive officer at the Port of Corpus Christi. In February, the port launched a public information portal to enhance transparency.

Port of Brownsville
Steel slabs move through the Port of Brownsville, destined for the expanding Ternium mill in Pesquería, just outside Monterrey, Mexico.

Port of Brownsville

The Port of Brownsville continues capitalizing upon its position just north of the U.S.-Mexico border, including serving as leading gateway for imported steel bound for export to Mexico. Much is used by the expanding Ternium mill in Pesquería, outside Monterrey, Mexico. The port has worked with Ternium, stevedore Gulf Stream Marine, Brownsville Rio Grande International Railway, OmniTRAX and Canadian Pacific Kansas City Ltd. to develop a transloading hub to expedite such shipments. And Mexico-based Forza Steel is constructing a 650,000-square-foot manufacturing facility at the port. Steel shipments help the port’s Foreign-Trade Zone No. 62 hold the second spot in export activity among U.S. FTZs, trailing only Dorchester County, South Carolina’s FTZ No. 21.

Houston-based NextDecade Corp. is moving ahead with the $18.4 billion first phase of its Rio Grande LNG liquefied natural gas export facility while sharing in costs to deepen Brownsville’s harbor channel to 52 feet from 42 feet.

Meanwhile, the port looks to complete a 118-acre industrial park by late summer, with first tenant Westa Inc. investing $20 million in a leading-edge wheat flour mill and storage silos.