For The Port That Works, The Best Is Yet To Come

At the turn of the 20th Century, Commodore Louis Cobolini had a vision of establishing a deepwater seaport to serve the residents of South Texas.

Cobolini imagined the port would bring significant economic impact to a predominantly agricultural region. He foresaw ocean shipping as vital to the future of the Rio Grande Valley, leading the efforts to establish a deepwater port.

Cobolini’s hard work paid off and his vision is now a reality as the Port of Brownsville is now the largest economic engine in Brownsville and Cameron County, and one of the top foreign trade zones in the country.

Since beginning operations in 1936, the port has grown into a major center for intermodal transportation and industrial development.

Common commodities like cotton, grains, and tropical fruits from the past have morphed into present-day cargoes of steel, aluminum, minerals, gasoline, diesel and windmill components.

In the 1950s cotton was king. In 2016, steel reigns.

And just like the early years saw much progress, proving that the benefits of deepwater transportation justified the long challenge to build a port, the present also is proof that the best is yet to come for the Port of Brownsville and the Rio Grande Valley.

The Port of Brownsville is a vital asset to the regional economy. An economic impact study by Martin Associates released September 2016 reports the port is responsible for more than 44,000 jobs and $3 billion in annual state economic activity, with nearly 8,000 regional workers directly employed by activities of the port.

The port continues to seek opportunities to grow and its leaders know investing in infrastructure is key to its future success.

Such is the case with cargo Dock 16, which opened in 2015. The new heavy-load capacity dock enhances the port’s cargo handling assets and adds versatility to keep pace with growing demand for managing multiple commodities. The Port of Brownsville achieved another record-breaking year in cargo movements in 2015 handling more than 10.1 million tons of cargo, exceeding the 2014 record of 8.4 million tons.

Based on that strong performance of 2016, the Brownsville Navigation District commissioners authorized a $28 million revenue bond to launch an aggressive capital improvement program. The principal project on schedule is the construction of the new Liquid Cargo Dock 6 and improvements to Liquid Cargo Dock 3. Construction for both projects will begin in early 2017.

And existing demands support deepening the port’s ship channel to 52 feet from its current 42-foot draft. The Brazos Island Harbor Channel Improvement Project received full congressional support in December 2016. When complete, the Port of Brownsville will become one of the deepest ports on the Gulf of Mexico, and will be able to accommodate deeper draft cargo vessels carrying heavier loads which translates to a greater economic impact per vessel and for the region. It also aligns with the recent expansion of the Panama Canal, allowing newer and bigger ships crossing that stretch to call on the port for business.

Finding ways to overcome challenges by diversifying its business in order to maintain global competitiveness and continued growth, the port has come a long way in its 80-year history.

There is no doubt that Commodore Cobolini’s dream of establishing a dynamic center of industrial, commercial, and shipping activity has proven to be a bold reality: The Port of Brownsville, the port that works.