Oldcastle Materials Company Prepares Port for Increased Traffic
BY Josh Houston
Completed in June 2016, the decade-long, $5.4 billion Panama Canal expansion has set in motion a global shift in trade that is impacting the U.S. Gulf Coast region. The canal expansion enables the passage of Post-Panamax ships, which are massive vessels capable of transporting 13,000 shipping containers at once. That’s nearly triple the volume carried by traditional cargo ships. The canal now handles twice as much cargo, radically shifting how goods enter the United States.
Contractors Can Find Port Work
The Texas Gulf Coast area is destined to reap the benefits of this new world order, and its ports have responded accordingly, deepening their harbors to accommodate the Post-Panamax ships and expanding rail lines and docks to accommodate for the rapidly growing influx of cargo containers. In 2017, the Port of Houston was the fastest growing of the top 10 container ports in the United States, and that growth shows no signs of slowing.
While Texas is particularly affected by these changes, ports nationwide are adjusting to the new reality in global trade. The American Association of Port Authorities estimates that U.S. ports and their private sector partners will spend nearly $155 billion over the next several years in port-related improvements, including expansion, modernization and repair costs.
The impact of the canal expansion on Gulf Coast ports also extends to the region’s broader transportation infrastructure—in particular the freight lines and highways that carry the increased cargo imports to market. The Port of Beaumont is constructing an overpass—1,860 feet long—that will stretch over three rail lines to provide an unrestricted route for materials and traffic between the port and an adjacent interstate highway.
Meanwhile, International Maritime Organization (IMO) recently announced its cap on sulphur in the bunker fuel used by large oceangoing ships. This news stands to further advantage the Gulf Coast region’s ports and refiners, which have invested heavily in infrastructure, including the coking units needed to produce low-sulphur fuels. While the full impact of the IMO regulations on refiners and shippers remains to be seen, the expansion and greater accessibility of Gulf Coast-area ports could not be more advantageously timed.
Gulf Coast Gets it Done
For a Houston ship channel project, Gulf Coast, an Oldcastle Materials Company, performed the work for a private customer. The customer entrusted us with the proper materials, design and delivery; we sought the Texas Department of Transportation 2014 specifications as a guideline for our materials. We performed testing in-house using TxDOT-approved lab equipment.
Gulf Coast placed two lifts of hot-mix asphalt (HMA), as you can see in the photos here. The binder course was four inches of 1.5-inch base HMA. The top lift was four inches of 5/8ths surface course, which is a larger, sturdier material to hold up to the heavy traffic the port experiences.
Some of the ships unloading here carry steel pipe from Asia, which has tremendous weight. The new surface has 18-wheelers and forklifts turning and moving heavy loads across it. Bundles of huge pipe sit on the surface. It must be sturdy to stand up to that level of traffic.
The project began August 2015 and finished February 2016.
Josh Houston is the operations manager for Oldcastle Materials.