New Port Chairman Vows Changes; TxDOT Gets Input On TMC Project
by: Gail Delaughter, January 24, 2013 1:01:00 pm
The new chairman of the Port of Houston Commission presided over her first meeting this week. Houston attorney Janiece Longoria takes the chairman's post as the legislature prepares to make a big decision about the commission's future.
Right now the port commission's seven members are chosen by local officials, but the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission voted in November to give that power to the governor. That Sunset Review was initiated following charges of financial mismanagement and conflicts of interest. State lawmakers will have the final say on the Sunset Commission's recommendations.
Questioned by reporters after Tuesday's meeting, Longoria said, "We were already working on a number of the governance issues that they have addressed before the recommendations were made by the Sunset Commission. So we will continue to do that. We will do it in a positive way."
Longoria takes over for longtime Port Chairman Jim Edmonds, who declined to seek reappointment.
The Port of Houston has submitted a self-evaluation plan as part of the review process. You can see it here.
A new study shows port-related businesses in Houston plan to spend about 21 billion dollars in capital and maintenance investment between now and 2015. The study from the Greater Houston Port Bureau estimates all that spending will translate into close to 112,000 jobs.
The Port Bureau is a trade organization that represents maritime- related businesses in the region. It's headed by retired Coast Guard Captain Bill Diehl.
Speaking to KUHF following a presentation to the Port Commission, Diehl said, "Without a ship channel you don't have these industries, and without these industries, where would Houston be? I mean, it's that clear. The companies are relocating here, to Houston, because they're looking at global markets now."
Diehl says they plan to use the results of the study to convince lawmakers to allocate more money from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund. The Corps of Engineers uses that money to dredge channels at U.S. ports, to keep them from becoming narrow and shallow.
Diehl says shippers at the Port of Houston pay about 130 million dollars a year into that fund, and get back about 20 million to keep the Ship Channel dredged. But he adds the port actually needs about 50 million.
A bill has just been introduced in Congress that would prohibit the government from spending money from the fund on anything other than harbor maintenance and dredging.
TxDOT is now taking public input on a proposed construction project that would have a major impact on the Texas Medical Center and surrounding neighborhoods.
Plans are in the works for a reversible toll road along the existing lanes of State Highway 288, from Brazoria County to downtown Houston. Officials have indicated they'd like to start construction as early as next year.
As part of that project, TxDot wants to build an elevated direct connector between the toll lanes and the Medical Center.
TxDOT's Raquelle Lewis says they're looking at six different alternatives for the connector's route, including Old Spanish Trail, Holcombe Boulevard, and Hermann Drive.
Not on the table is a proposed seventh alternative that would have taken the connector from 288 to MacGregor Way. That alternative was nixed after the City of Houston and other entities expressed concern over the potential impact to nearby MacGregor Park.
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