Houston Ship Channel Widening and Deepening

Houston skyline

Houston Ship Channel Widening and Deepening

Designing a Major Project on a Compressed Schedule

Houston is the busiest U.S. port in overall waterborne tonnage and busiest for foreign waterborne tonnage. In the wake of the Panama Canal improvements and an increase in U.S. oil exports and container traffic Port Houston initiated a channel improvement project to design a wider and deeper ship channel for safe and efficient navigation and to better accommodate the next generation of larger ships. 

HDR is the lead engineer and designer for two of six segments in the channel improvement initiative — the highest-profile project underway at one of the busiest U.S. ports. HDR’s contract covers design, engineering, project coordination and other consultation services. Working in a compressed timeframe, construction documents were made ready within one year to help Port Houston and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers complete the project in an accelerated timeframe, when similar projects often take over a decade. 

Regulatory Requirements

A major project such as this one involves many regulatory steps and close coordination with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Our team is leveraging strong relationships to find common ground and deliver the project on the expedited timeline. Our team is supporting Port Houston by identifying pipelines that need to be moved and coordinating with the owners to get the pipelines relocated. The team is also managing cultural resources, helping to deliver an environmental assessment, and designing a beneficial use area — placing dredged material in an area of 350 acres in the bay to creating intertidal marsh.

Important to Commerce

The two channel segments HDR is responsible for — Segment 3 and Segment 4 — could help to advance Houston’s commerce considerably. The Barbours Cut channel (Segment 3) supports a container terminal as well as some oil and gas facilities. The 155-foot widening, from 300 to 455 feet, will allow for safer transit of the larger post-Panamax vessels that can now utilize the new Panama Canal.

The other segment, referred to as Segment 4, serves primarily oil and gas facilities and will be both widened and deepened. The 5-foot increase in depth, from 41 to 46.5 feet, will allow for two-way traffic and more efficient vessel loading.

Pipeline Coordination

Our team coordinated and worked with several pipeline owners on identifying a morass of pipelines under the channel, coordinating with pipeline companies to remove them in an orderly and efficient manner.

Since the pipelines were “stacked” on top of each other, the replacement and removal had to be sequential to maintain safety and cost control. In some cases companies were competitors. Regular meetings streamlined the coordination process and allowed the companies to coordinate schedules. This also included identifying abandoned pipelines.

Cultural Resources

HDR executed marine archaeological studies for four of the six segments, coordinating with state and federal agencies to ensure resource identification, compliance, documentation, and required approvals. 


Four of the six segments are under construction in 2023. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has assumed responsibility for the construction of Segments 3 and 4. Segment 3 is currently out for bid and HDR has remained in an advisory role. Segment 4 will be initiated in early 2024, with completion based on federal appropriations. 

Houston skyline
Port Houston

Houston, TX
United States