HOUSTON, Texas — The busiest waterway in the nation by tonnage is right in our own backyard.
"We’re 50 million tons bigger than number two,” said Port Houston Chief Infrastructure Officer Rich Byrnes.
Accommodating bigger and bigger ships is part of the reason Port Houston pushed “Project 11.”
"We call it Project 11 because it’s the 11th major expansion of the ship channel in its 150-year history,” said Byrnes.
The multi-year, multi-segment project includes widening parts of the channel to 700 feet and deepening others to 46 1/2 feet.
Primary objectives include improving draft for larger vessels and giving them more room to maneuver, which lessens the need to play what ship pilots call “Texas Chicken.”
But, tons of material must be removed first.
“I know a lot about dredging," said Port Houston Project Manager Leia Wilson.
She was among those showing us dredging work that includes the largest clam-shell dredger in the U.S. which is also hybrid electric to help with emissions.
"So they’re doing roughly 10,000 cubic yards a day here," said Wilson. "Once they get in the channel, they’ll be upwards of 20-22,000 cubic yards a day.”
Meanwhile, a giant drill bit-looking device on another dredge loosens hard clay and soils under water.
"It’s about 10 feet wide and this one weighs about 17 tons or so,” said Nicholas Williams with contractor Great Lakes Dredge and Dock Company.
The muck is then pumped through a tube and dumped either on man-made islands out in the Gulf or is used to help with beach restoration.
It's all part of an effort to keep a multi-billion dollar economic engine comfortably afloat for years to come.
"No channel, no ships, no port,” said Byrnes.
You can find out more about Project 111 on the Houston Ship Channel's website.