HARLINGEN, Texas – Unlike other coastal states, Texas does not invest in its 19 seaports. The Texas House Committee on Transportation wants that to change.

In its interim report to the 88th Legislature, the committee recommends the Legislature appropriate $750 million to the Ship Channel Improvement Revolving Fund for the deepening and widening of authorized ship channels.

It also wants the Legislature to appropriate $1 billion for the purpose of investing in projects in the Port Capital Improvement Report.

The committee’s report on Texas’ seaport infrastructure needs has found favor with Walker Smith, port director for the Port of Harlingen Authority. Smith fears Texas seaports will fall behind those of other states if infrastructure investment is not made.

“Historically, the state of Texas has not supported the seaports and it’s unfortunate. Especially when seaports are responsible for 25 percent of the state’s GDP,” Smith told the Rio Grande Guardian International News Service.

“We’re important. We are huge economic drivers. We’re huge revenue generators for the state. And we need to be supported.”

Smith, pictured above, pointed out that the state of Florida injects over $2 billion a year into their port programs. He said California pumps $2.5 billion of state funds into its ports. 

“For us to remain competitive, yes, we need to start getting some support from the state of Texas.”

Smith urged the state of Texas to invest in its seaports when he testified before the House Committee on Transportation at a hearing at UT-Rio Grande Valley in Brownsville in September. In his interview with the Guardian he said he would like to thank the committee and in particular its chairman, state Rep. Terry Canales of Edinburg.

“We appreciate the efforts of the committee and Chairman Canales. We appreciate everything the committee has been saying and what they have been researching and looking for answers to – to try and figure out what’s best. We absolutely are in support of the committee report.”

According to experts, there will be a lot of money available when the Legislature crafts its next state budget during the 88th legislative session. Asked if he is confident the Legislature will, finally, help fund the infrastructure needs of the seaports, Smith said: “We hope so. There is certainly a lot more rhetoric coming from the legislators in support of the ports and so yes, we’re hopeful that this is something that is going to come to fruition for us. Absolutely.”

House Speaker Dade Phelan asked the House Committee on Transportation to look at seaport infrastructure needs during the interim. Interim Charge 7 reads: 

“Examine the ability of the state’s seaports to promote the public purposes of state economic growth, diversification, and commerce through development of port-owned properties within their boundaries. Review the investments needed for Texas ports to remain competitive in handling increased cargo volumes and ensuring a resilient supply chain.”

The committee studied this interim charge on two separate committee hearing dates, September 8, 2022, in Brownsville, and October 6, 2022, in Corpus Christi. The committee heard testimony from the Texas Department of Transportation, the Texas Ports Association, the Port of Beaumont, the Port of Port Arthur, Port Houston, the Port of Corpus Christi, the Port of Brownsville, the Port of Harlingen, Union Pacific Railroad, and other key stakeholders. 

The interim report notes that on numerous occasions in recent years, the Legislature, the Texas Transportation Commission, and the Texas Department of Transportation have recognized that the state must do more to help its seaports.

In 2001, 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019 state lawmakers were urged to invest in its seaports, the interim report states, but funding was not appropriated. 

“The reality is that Texas ports are falling behind on basic infrastructure improvements, yet they are in serious competition with ports in other states that are financially supported by their respective state governments,” the interim report states.

“Louisiana, Georgia, Alabama, and Florida all have some form of state investment in their port infrastructure to keep them competitive. A vast list of states outside of the Gulf of Mexico also have state investments in their ports.”

The report cites the testimony of TxDOT. “Without any state investment, Texas maritime ports recently supported $449.6 billion in economic activity for Texas, which is more than 25 percent of Texas’ gross domestic product, and $1.3 trillion in economic activity for the United States. However, while Texas ports are supporting the 10th largest economy in the world, they are still not able to handle the world’s largest vessels and mission out on significant economic opportunities.” 

The report concluded: “Texas’ transportation leaders know the impact of the state’s maritime ports on the Texas economy, the aging infrastructure needs of many of the state’s ports, and that the investment tools are primed in statute. The next step is for the Texas Legislature to appropriate funding for the tools.”

Editor’s Note: The above news story is the second in a three-part series on the interim report of the Texas House Committee on Transportation. Click here to read Part One.

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