Texas Legislature Passes New Laws Affecting the Port Region

By Kyle Beam, GHPB

The 85th Regular Session of the Texas Legislature has come to an end after another controversial session. Many controversial bills were debated and protested, but new legislation was enacted, including several new laws that directly affect the maritime and transportation industries.
The bill that looks to have the most impact is SB 1524. The specifics of the bill have been debated in various forms over the years between members of congress and industry, but a consensus was finally reached this year. The bill establishes what many in the Houston area call the “heavy haul corridor.”
More specifically, the Legislative Budget Board Fiscal Note states “The bill would amend the Transportation Code, to authorize the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles (TxDMV) to issue an annual permit authorizing the movement of sealed intermodal shipping containers as defined by the bill. The bill would establish certain restrictions regarding axle weight and configurations and other conditions for vehicles that may operate under this permit. An applicant for a permit would be required to designate each counties and municipality in which the permit would be used. The bill would require an applicant to pay a permit fee of $6,000, of which 50 percent would be deposited to the State Highway Fund (SHF), 30 percent would be divided equally among and distributed to the counties designated in the permit application, 16 percent would be divided equally among and distributed to the municipalities designated in the permit application; and four percent would be deposited to the credit of the TxDMV Fund. The bill would require the fee for a permit application received on or after January 1, 2028, to be determined by TxDMV after consultation with the University of Texas Center for Transportation Research and the Texas A&M Transportation Institute. The bill would require the Comptroller to send amounts due to the counties at least once each fiscal year for deposit to the credit of the county road and bridge fund. The bill would require the Department of Public Safety (DPS) to adopt rules requiring additional safety and driver training for permits issued under the provisions of the bill. The bill would create a Class C misdemeanor for certain offenses related to the permit. The bill would require the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), in each even-numbered year beginning in 2022, to conduct and publish the results of a study on vehicles operating under a permit issued under the provisions of the bill.”
The bill currently only authorizes the use of the “heavy haul corridor” for trucks carrying ocean-going containers moving through international waters. Along with the international requirements the safety requirements for the trucks are being overhauled. There are two classifications of trucks and cargo where a permit will be issued. The first is a container must be moved on a truck-tractor and semitrailer combination that has six total axels and is equipped with a roll stability support safety system and blind spot systems, and the weight is not to exceed 93,000 pounds. The second is a container must be moved on a truck-tractor and semitrailer combination that has seven total axels and is equipped with a roll stability support safety system and blind spot systems, and the weight is not to exceed 100,000 pounds.
The current version of the law comes with route restrictions for the permit-issued trucks. The trucks will not be allowed on the interstate highway system or load-restricted roads and must operate only on the roads and highways approved by the Texas Department of Transportation. The bill states, the route must also “begin or end at a port authority or port of entry that is located in a county contiguous to the Gulf of Mexico or a bay or inlet opening into the gulf; and may not exceed 30 miles from the port authority or port of entry.”
Along with SB 1524, the state also passed SB 28 creating the Ship Channel Improvement Revolving Fund. The law becomes effective immediately and creates the Ship Channel Improvement Revolving Fund. The fund will be administered by the Texas Transportation Commission, which establishes a revolving loan program to use money from the fund to finance qualified projects for navigation districts. The bill defines qualified projects must “deepen or widen a ship channel, be authorized by the United States Congress, and meet any other standards provided by commission rule.” The bill adds an amendment to the existing transportation code that allows the Commission to use money from the Texas Mobility Fund for “port access improvement projects.” The bill defines port access improvement projects as “the construction or improvement of public roadways that will enhance connectivity to ports.” The bill also creates a committee of nine members: seven members appointed by the Commission – one representative of the Port of Houston Authority, three representatives of the maritime ports of the Upper Texas Coast and three representatives of the maritime ports of the Lower Texas Coast – one member appointed by the lieutenant governor and one member appointed by the speaker of the house of representatives.
To see other laws passed by the Texas Legislature, and laws that could potentially be enacted, please visit the Texas A&M Transportation Institute’s website at https://tti.tamu.edu/policy/85r/.

  • Date June 5, 2017
  • Tags June 2017