USACE Midway into HSC Expansion Channel Improvement Project Feasibility Study

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is leading this study in collaboration with the non-federal sponsor, Port Houston. The study has formulated and screened alternatives to find the best plan for the ongoing efficiency, safety, and navigability of the Houston Ship Channel.

By: Judith Schultz, GHPB

Tentatively Selected Plan. Source: Map courtesy of the USACE.

In anticipation of the deadline for the acceptance of written comments on November 13, 2017, the Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) presented their “Draft Integrated Feasibility Report and Environmental Impact State” for the Houston Ship Channel Expansion Channel Improvement Project at local public meetings in late October. USACE is midway through the feasibility study, which began in May of 2016.
Focusing on the feasibility of improving navigation on the Houston Ship Channel (HSC), the study focus includes:

  1. Deepening and widening opportunities from Boggy Bayou to the Main Turning Basin;
  2. Safety improvements to side channels at the Bayport Ship Channel and the Barbours Cut Channel though widening; and,
  3. Enhancements to the Galveston Bay Reach safety and efficiency to include widening and easing of channel turns.

Overall, the study has investigated improving deep-draft navigation efficiency to accommodate both current and future vessels, reduce vessel traffic delays, increase channel safety, and establish environmentally suitable placements areas for dredged material.

To accommodate these goals, USACE divided the HSC into six segments (Please see the legend of the Houston Ship Channel map on page 20.). Each segment was then assigned a “design vessel” to help formulate and select appropriate measures. USACE utilized their SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, risk-informed, timely) Planning concept to screen and evaluate measures.

The Tentatively Selected Plan

From the original 48 measures identified, eight were developed into options or “alternative plans” for evaluation. These alternative plans were developed around addressing the unique problems, restrictions, and needs of each design vessel, and combinations of them. After analysis to determine which alternative maximized transportation cost savings on the HSC system, USACE selected the plan, identified as the Tentatively Selected Plan or TSP, to be carried forward in the study process for further refinement and evaluation.

The TSP is a system-wide plan that most fully meets the feasibility study objectives. The TSP effectively reduces – and in some cases, could eliminate – Pilot Rule restrictions for transit on the HSC while simultaneously improving safety. The TSP calls for improvements in each of the identified segments of the Houston Ship Channel. Improvements include adding four bend easings on the HSC in the Bay Reach with associated relation of barge lanes; a new multi-purpose mooring facility near the San Jacinto Monument; and, adding and improving turning basins in several segments.

Widening plans target the HSC between Bolivar Roads and the Barbours Cut Channel, the Bayport Ship Channel, the Barbours Cut Channel, and the HSC from San Jacinto to Greens Bayou. Areas to deepen would include segment areas of the HSC from Boggy Bayou to Sims Bayou; from Sims Bayou to the I-160 Bridge; and, the HSC from the I-610 Bridge to the Main Turning Basin.

Environmental Impacts

The TSP also considers environmental impact.

A biological assessment is being coordinated with the National Marine Fisheries Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Standard best management practices would be utilized to avoid significant impacts to oyster reefs, sea turtles, and other areas of concern.

A programmatic Dredged Material Management Plan (DMMP) will be used to develop the most cost-efficient methods to place material. The plan will rely on existing placements areas as much as possible. A DMMP will be developed once the TSP has been approved. The study team expects to build upon the successes of the last Federal Study and beneficially use dredge materials to minimize environmental impacts.

Once the submitted comments have been reviewed, USACE will complete their analysis of the TSP. The feasibility study report is expected to be published in the Federal Register for final comment in July 2019. Study documents are available for review as well as an updated informative video at the USACE Galveston District website at http://www.swg.usace.army.mil/Missions/Projects/Houston-Ship-Channel-Expansion/.

  • Date November 20, 2017
  • Tags November 2017