Moving ahead: Transportation efforts show big progress
The deepening project for the Sabine Neches Waterway is entering “final, critical” organizational steps for partnering with the Army Corps of Engineers, a local spokesman said. These would mark some final steps needed to make construction possible.
Payton Keith, a Sabine Neches Navigation District spokesman, said a local team would head to Washington, D.C., early next month to meet with Corps representatives and sign some agreements related to in-kind work that would be performed here.
The ultimate plan: To deepen the waterway from 40 to 48 feet, enabling larger ships to enter local ports and increase import and export tonnage from what is already one of the country’s busiest waterways.
Keith was one of several panelists for the Greater Port Arthur Chamber of Commerce Transportation Summit 2019, held Wednesday at Lamar State College Port Arthur. His brief status report on the waterway said the Sabine Neches is emerging as both the nation’s premier oil export waterway and the top U.S. port for exporting liquefied natural gas.
He said the waterway had ranked No. 3 in the country for tonnage in 2017, but 13% growth — much of that is due to the U.S. lifting a ban on crude oil exports — catapulted this local waterway above others.
In fact, he said, the local waterway is outpacing its own projected tonnage for the year 2026, he said — eight years ahead of schedule — and tonnage growth is outpacing that of Houston and Corpus Christi, two ports that compete with the Sabine Neches Waterway for busiest U.S. ports.
Nor will the local waterway’s activity likely subside, he said, given the available places for new development along the waterway and the growth of local oil and gas production.
Panelist Tucker Ferguson of the Texas Department of Transportation said progress was being made on several high-profile road projects in southern Jefferson County, including the cloverleaf intersection at Highways 69 and 73, work on Highway 87 near Sabine Pass and a lighting project around Mid County.
He said consultants are looking at plans to replace the cloverleaf intersection, identified as critically important by the Chamber of Commerce, but plans were not ready to be made public.
Ferguson said TxDOT was intent on getting rid of the cloverleaf, which he described as not up to design standards decades after it was built. He said the project would likely cost about $70 million and go to bid in late 2020 or early 2021.
Work is progressing — it may finish this week — on sheet-piling work along the waterway that runs adjacent to Highway 87. That $20 million improvement project is due for completion by year’s end.
Ferguson also said installation of lighting — 19 poles — on Highway 69, starting at the Jimmy Johnson Boulevard exit and heading north, has been well-received because the additional lighting will be easy to maintain and “safer for visibility.”
Chamber Transportation Committee Chairman Ron Arceneaux said the meeting was “very encouraging,” and enabled local people involved in transportation to plan for connectivity, safety and mobility.