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Based on what we know today, 2022 should be a banner year for the Port of Galveston’s cruise and cargo businesses. This means strong jobs and revenue growth for the port and the region. Major factors contributing to this forecast include completion of a federal dredging project to bring the Galveston Ship Channel to its full permitted depth of 47 feet and the opening of our third cruise terminal at Pier 10.
It’s rewarding to see the vision of our Galveston Wharves Board of Trustees and the efforts of our staff and port partners bear fruit. We began laying the groundwork for this growth by implementing the port’s 20-Year Strategic Master Plan, adopted by the board in 2019. This is the roadmap to optimize our 840-acre port complex based on comprehensive studies, industry forecasts and public input.
This is the first in a series of columns on what the port staff forecasts for next year and what we’ll be working on in the areas of cargo, cruise, capital projects, grants and environmental sustainability.
CARGO: FULL STEAM AHEAD
This year we expect total cargo tonnage to be about 5 million tons, the highest since 2016. Next year we expect total tonnage to be even higher, particularly after federal and port dredging projects bring our deep-water channel to its maximum permitted depth of 47 feet.
With funding unavailable to dredge the federal portion of the ship channel for more than a decade, silting has prevented larger bulk cargo ships from calling on the port. The project is expected to remove 5-6 million cubic yards of silt and allow the port to reach its full potential. Liquid cargos like fuel and bulk cargos such as grain and fertilizer account for more than half of our tonnage each year.
With the federal project expected to be wrapped up in April, the port will follow with its annual maintenance dredging around its berths and slips. We should be ready to welcome larger cargo ships by the second half of the year.
We also import and export a variety of other cargos, including new cars, fresh produce, construction and agricultural equipment, and wind turbine components. All are impacted by global markets and production, both positively and negatively.
Foreign new car production slowed significantly in the last year or so due to a pandemic-induced shortage of chips and other parts. Our vehicle import tenant tells us that they expect robust growth next year as those shortages ease.
We also look to continue improving our West Port Cargo Complex to accommodate more cargo. The $30 million expansion and improvement project will increase the cargo area to almost 90 acres, improve infrastructure and position the port to further diversify its business.
The complex will look very different in a few years. We plan to fill outdated slips to add 18.6 high-value waterfront acres and extend a rail spur to the waterfront. This will allow us to efficiently and safely move large cargo like wind turbine pieces from ships directly onto rail cars.
We also have plans to bring in container ships. While we can’t compete with the Port of Houston with its large-scale container business, smaller container ships are a growth opportunity due to our prime location. We are 45 minutes from open waters, 10 minutes from an interstate highway, and serviced by two railroads.
Teamwork also contributes to our cargo business growth. Our port staff hustles and works well with stevedores and other port partners to bring in new business. And, of course, the dedicated men and women of the International Longshoremen’s Association are essential to the port’s cargo business success.