Transportation Officials Look at Improved Ways to Haul Freight

Transportation officials are predicting explosive growth at Texas ports in the years to come.  The Panama Canal is undergoing a major expansion, and there's also increased exploration for natural gas in the state. A recent TxDOT study examines how infrastructure needs to be improved to handle that growth.

A big truck rumbles along next to the Houston Ship Channel.

It's one of the big rigs handling goods that move through the top exporting port in the United States.

With its 52 miles of petrochemical complexes, figures show the port is responsible for about a million direct and indirect jobs in the Houston region. And with the widening of the Panama Canal that's currently underway, officials expect even more activity in the future, and that means more traffic on local roadways.

"If we don't prioritize freight movement, then the jobs aren't going to be here and we begin to stagnate."

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett worked on a recent TxDOT study on what the state needs to do to improve its freight transportation infrastructure, especially in regard to increased energy exploration.

"With the Eagle Ford Shale and the Barnett Shale coming in, the widened locks of the Panama Canal will allow LNG tankers to go through. They don't fit right now."

The TxDOT study also sees a big demand for Texas agricultural products. But with the state's population expanding by about a thousand people a day, how do you efficiently move freight without bogging down the state's roadways?

At the Port of Houston trucks handle most of that freight, but Port Executive Director Leonard Waterworth says a lot of those containers could be transported by rail.

"Right there in the Barbours Cut area, there's probably well over fifty percent additional capacity that could be utilized, so there's lots of opportunity to grow there. And I think you'll see that starting to be utilized in 2013."

Officials say if you could get the freight out of congested urban areas before loading it onto trucks, freeways would move more smoothly . But with more cars expected on the roads, what about the long waits at railroad crossings? TxDOT Commissioner Jeff Moseley says the state has to make improvements at grade crossings because air quality is also an issue.

"Just imagine where you don't have automobiles stopped and idling because they're waiting on a train to cross the roadway. If you can elevate those rail lines over the roadways just imagine the tons of carbon that are not placed into our air."

The study also suggests transporting more goods by barge on the Intracoastal Waterway.

Bio photo of Gail Delaughter

Gail Delaughter

Transportation Reporter

Gail Delaughter joined KUHF in October 2008 as Saturday morning news anchor and host. A native of New Orleans and a graduate of Southeastern Louisiana University, Gail has extensive experience in Texas and Louisiana as a radio news reporter and morning show anchor and co-host...