Port of Port Arthur granted $9.7 million in improvements

The Port of Port Arthur will begin plans to upgrade a crucial dockside transit building after receiving a nearly $10 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The Port Arthur project was one of 18 worth a total of $220 million selected under the U.S. Maritime Administration’s (MARAD) Port Infrastructure Development Program, which is aimed at ensuring the country’s ports meet current and future standards of logistical efficiency.

The $9.72 million awarded to the Port of Port Arthur will be used to tear down and replace an aged dockside building used to transition cargo from ships to trucks or rail.

Port Director Larry Kelley said the new building will provide some much-needed usable storage and an all-weather covered area that will greatly increase efficiency for longshoremen loading and unloading.

Related: Port Arthur port breaks ground on next step toward the future

“This building will address our future needs for breakbulk cargoes and creates increased efficiency in transportation mobility,” he said. “It goes a long way to supporting U.S. exports, which is a large portion of what we do here.”

The modern-day version of the Port of Port Arthur is a relatively new facility compared to others along the nation’s coast, having been completed in 1969, but that means most of the infrastructure there is at least 51 years old.

Maritime Administrator Mark H. Buzby said the grant program was designed with ports like Port Arthur in mind with a goal of inceasing the nation’s overall economic potential one improvement project at a time.

“These grants will help our nation’s economy and ensure that America’s ports can continue to operate effectively in the competitive global marketplace,” he said in a statement.

The Port Arthur project is one of eight funded in the latest grant award that are in federally designated areas of low-income and high unemployment that are targeted investment incentives, earning them the moniker of Opportunity Zones.

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao highlighted the choice of selected projects in Opportunity Zones in her announcement of the funding.

“This $220 million in federal grants will improve America’s ports with nearly half the projects located in Opportunity Zones, which were established to revitalize economically distressed communities,” Chao said in a statement.

Related: Photos: Army moves equipment through Port of Port Arthur

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on the global economy, volumes of both military and commercial cargo have been increasing at Gulf Coast ports like Port Arthur and Beaumont, necessitating more improvements.

The Port Arthur port has already started some of those improvements and has persisted with work even through the pandemic.

Kelley said the port is currently about 75% finished with a $37 million expansion project to add 600 feet of dock space.

Port Arthur voters in 2016 approved an $89.95 million bond proposal for infrastructure improvements.

The port’s last major project was in 2000, when it completed berths Nos. 3, 4 and 5 for $60 million. That project yielded an additional 3,400 linear feet of dock.

The pandemic has interrupted both domestic and international trade in most markets, including in port traffic, momentarily ending what had been a streak of banner years for area ports.

Breakbulk tonnage at Port Arthur dropped about 16% to 488,882 tons during the first six months of 2020 compared to the same period last year, as reported by JOC.com.

Kelley said the port has been able to successfully navigate a fluctuating landscape so far, and most projections show an eventual return to business as usual that will benefit from the work accomplished in the meantime.

“There will be certain segments that contract, as we’ve seen with the slowing of drilling out west, but we need diesel and energy, as do foreign economies,” he said. “There might be a slow pace through ’20 and ’21, and then an uptick.”

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