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Coastal Bend Builds on Transportation Infrastructure

The Coastal Bend Region's port, railways and airport receive upgrades.

By Kevin Litwin on September 2, 2014

Business is booming in the Coastal Bend, and one of the major drivers behind the region’s economic growth is its transportation network, which includes a world-class port, Class I railways and an international airport – all of which are undergoing major expansions.

Making news recently is Port Corpus Christi, which is exporting more oil than it is importing. A key factor behind its record-setting rise in exports is the drilling boom north of the port at the massive Eagle Ford Shale, one of the world’s most profitable oil fields.

In addition to oil, Port Corpus Christi is also known for importing and exporting commodities such as wind turbine blades, military equipment, frac sand, steel pipes and grain. Current on-site construction projects include $35 million in upgrades to public barge and dock facilities, and plans to eventually replace the existing Harbor Bridge with a taller structure that will allow bigger cargo ships to move through the port’s Inner Harbor.

“This region has been working for years on a replacement for the current Harbor Bridge, and in the last two years, TxDOT has shown interest in budgeting $600 million toward the replacement,” says Loyd Neal, Nueces County Judge who has been involved with the new bridge discussions ever since he was Mayor of Corpus Christi in the late 1990s.

Construction Plans

Along with the $600 million from TxDOT, the City of Corpus Christi, Nueces County, San Patricio County and Port Corpus Christi are working together to provide another $100 million and more land so they can kick off the project.

“Hopefully, plans can be finalized by mid 2015 and then construction would begin soon afterward, with the project estimated to take four years to complete,” Neal says. “Once finished, the old bridge will be demolished to open a significant amount of land in downtown Corpus Christi for development.”

For larger cargo ships, the bottom of the new bridge will actually be taller than the top of the current Harbor Bridge.

“With all the activity occurring from Eagle Ford Shale as well as wind energy projects and military equipment, larger vessels entering Port Corpus Christi has become a necessity,” he says. “A new bridge would also provide great improvements to meet the needs of today’s increased truck traffic.”

Roads, Rail and Runways

Along with a world-class port, the region boasts a highway system that includes Interstate 37, U.S. 77 and 181, and Texas State Highways 35, 44, 286, 357, 358 and 361. Three Class I railroads serve Port Corpus Christi, BNSF, Kansas City Southern Railway and Union Pacific, and rail operations have increased more than 100 percent to and from the Port over the past five years.

Businesses have the ability to send cargo via rail anywhere in the U.S., Mexico and Canada, and a new $46 million Nueces River Rail Yard has been approved for construction to further boost shipping capacity by rail from the Port.

Corpus Christi International Airport (CRP) has also been undergoing expansions over the past three years, and one of the largest endeavors is completion of a $50 million project to lengthen the airport runway and reconfigure all taxiways. The runway lengthening is needed for CRP to compete for more cargo business.

“A longer runway comes into play when larger cargo planes full of fuel and full of cargo want to take off from our airport, with the additional distance necessary for the lift of a very heavy plane,” says Kim Bridger, Corpus Christi International Airport marketing manager.

Commercial ridership is also on the rise at CRP, says Bridger, who expects to see double-digit percent increases in passenger traffic in 2014 compared to 2013.

“Southwest, American and United serve area residents, and according to the latest study commissioned by TxDOT, Corpus Christi International provides a $300 million annual impact to the region,” she says. “The airport generates about $120 million in annual payroll and is responsible for 3,900 jobs.”

A new U.S. Coast Guard Station is also under construction at CRP, Bridger adds, with a scheduled opening for spring 2015.

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