Legislation will help Texas ports receive funding for infrastructure improvements

Legislation to enable funding opportunities for Texas ports was signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott on May 26 after passing both the House and the Senate unanimously.
This bill creates the Ship Channel Improvement Revolving Fund as an account in the General Revenue fund for navigation districts to secure loans for projects to improve ship channels, Sen. Brandon Creighton, author of the bill, told the Business Journal.
“Channel projects occur only once in every few decades. However, they are extremely expensive,” Creighton said. “Generally, Texas navigation districts are currently expected to pay the non-federal share without state assistance. While other states have fewer ports and often support their ports with direct appropriations to fuel their economic engine, Texas ports are entirely self-supporting. Even with the unprecedented need for billions of dollars of infrastructure investment, Texas ports have indicated they are prepared to meet the challenge and only seek the ability to access favorable loans from the state for channel improvements.
“I believed this past session was the time to create the parameters of a fund that will provide loans similar to the Texas Mobility Fund for port infrastructure. Given that the major infrastructure plans for Texas ports will likely not commence before 2019, it was possible to set up the structure of the fund in 2017 and determine actual funding in a future legislative session.”
During the 84th Interim, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick appointed Creighton to chair the Senate Select Committee on Texas Ports tasked to study the state’s port assets, both coastal and inland hubs. The committee paid special attention to the economic impact of the Panama Canal expansion and made several trips to Texas ports.
“The select committee effectively substantiated the claim that Texas ports are among the best in the world with potential to become even more competitive,” said Creighton. “This (will) lay the groundwork for port infrastructure.”
Sen. Creighton’s SB 28 is the first step for improving Texas ports. The bill also continues the conversation for how Texas can give its ports a competitive edge in the future.
“Texas ports are responsible for 30 percent of the Texas gross domestic product and are integral to the Texas manufacturing and energy miracle that sustained the Texas economy through the depths of the economic downturn,” Creighton said. “However, Texas ports and manufacturing face an unprecedented competitive threat as ports in neighboring states are beating Texas in the race to improve their depth and infrastructure to meet the opportunities created by the new, deeper Panama Canal. Texas cannot afford to fall behind.”
Creighton said the bill could encourage the approval of federal funding for the Sabine-Neches Waterway deepening project, as well.
“The Sabine Neches Waterway is one of four federally approved projects in Texas,” he said. “If state-backed funds are available, then securing federal dollars could be more realistic.”
Creighton did say, however, that Congress must take additional steps, and the Sabine-Neches Navigation District must utilize the new tools made available by the state to make the project happen.

Photo courtesy of Brandon Creighton - Sen. Brandon Creighton during a session of the 85th Texas Legislative Session