There's no mistaking when you've arrived at the new Bayport Terminal. Four huge cranes loom over the 90-acre site where I'm standing right now, already stacked with hundreds of shipping containers. This will soon be a hub of activity that Port Authority Chairman Jim Edmonds says will create thousands of jobs for the local economy.
"This first dock we're standing on right now will generate 2,000 new jobs this year and then at the end of next year when we open up the cruise dock, that will be 9,800 jobs. Then at the end of build-out, it will be 32,000 new jobs, permanent direct jobs and have about a $2.4 billion impact."
The facility will eventually fill a large tract of land about 30 miles southeast of downtown Houston, just south of La Porte and near Highway 146. Former Port Chairman Ned Holmes started the Bayport process with the purchase of about 800 acres of land in the early 1990's.
"We had filled-up our capacity at Barbour's Cut and in the Turning Basin and we were losing market share which really means that we were disadvantaging the businesses and the population in this part of Texas because we were no longer competitive, we did not have the space to handle additional cargo. This facility will take this region and the state for another 10 to 20 years."
The Port Authority has already spent about $400 million on Bayport, a price tag that could easily jump into the billions over the next decade. Harris County Judge Robert Eckels says the money is worth it and will lower the cost of goods in Houston.
"A lot of the costs of everything from a cup of coffee to your doughnut in the morning to the t-v you're watching or the chair you're sitting on or the bed you're sleeping in, all that stuff comes on a container through the port, or the pieces of it do. This is good news for Houston to see this kind of operation right here in our back yard."
The project has been opposed at nearly every turn, with environmental and community groups questioning Bayport's impact on local neighborhoods and Galveston Bay. Harris County Commissioner Sylvia Garcia says the benefits of Bayport outweigh the negatives.
"There will always be challenges but I'm very, very optimistic that we can continue to work together to find a balance between the environmental concerns and economic interests to ensure that we've got neighborhoods with a good quality of life but that we also have a good economic sustainability for our area."
The first of possibily three cruise ship terminals is set to open at Bayport sometime next year. You can see pictures and learn more about Bayport on our website, KUHF.org.