Texas ports are a step closer to having a dedicated state fund to help pay for dredging projects.
But they still might have to wait a while to get their first checks.
The Texas House of Representatives on Tuesday approved the Texas Port Expansion Act with a 146-0 vote.
The bill proposes creating a revolving fund that would set state general fund money aside for dredging projects at Texas ports. The Texas Transportation Commission would make loans for the ports for matching funds on projects approved by Congress.
It does not, however, actually set aside any money for those projects; not this year, at least.
The bill also allows the commission to provide funding for road improvements near ports and expands the size of the commission from seven to nine members.
The bill was written by state Sen. Brandon Creighton, a Conroe Republican whose district includes Bolivar Peninsula.
Creighton could not be reached for comment Tuesday afternoon.
Texas ports support 1.5 million jobs in $367 million in economic activity, according to the Texas Ports Association.
“The loan program created by SB 28 will provide critical assistance to state navigation districts as they work to widen or deepen their federal channels to facilitate more and bigger ships,” said Roger Guenther, the president of the ports association.
The Port of Galveston moves more than 5 million tons of cargo — including wind power equipment, agriculture equipment, fertilizer, lumber and bulk grain — annually, as well as more than 1 million cruise passengers yearly.
Keeping the port channels dredged in an expensive part of operating ports, and there is limited federal funding and no state dollars for improving channels.
Every 18 months, the Port of Galveston spends about $1 million to keep its slips and berths dredged, officials have said. The loan program could help cover some of those costs.
Last fall, the Senate Select Committee recommended the state take steps to prepare to improve Texas’ ports.
“While other states have fewer ports and often support their ports with direct appropriations to fuel their economic engine, Texas ports are entirely self-supporting,” the committee wrote. “Even with the unprecedented need for billions of dollars of infrastructure investment, Texas ports have indicated they are prepared to meet the challenge and only seek the ability to access favorable loans from the state for channel improvements.”
The same committee said that major infrastructure plans will not likely commence until 2019.
The bill had received the support of Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who has lobbied for port initiatives since at least 2015. The bill was approved by the Senate unanimously in April.
The bill will now be sent to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who can sign it into law or veto it.