Chapter 1: Waterways

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Section 1: Gulf Intracoastal Waterway

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Overview

The Gulf Intracoastal Waterway (GIWW) is a 1,300 mile man-made canal that runs along the Gulf of Mexico coastline from the southernmost tip of Texas at Brownsville to St. Marks, Florida. The GIWW was originally constructed to provide a connection between gulf ports. The impetus for creating such a link was the discovery of oil in East Texas as well as the growing need to transport steel and other manufacturing materials. Ultimately, the GIWW enabled the gulf ports to be linked with the entire country via the inland waterway system.

This section covers:

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Texas Portion of GIWW

The Texas portion of the waterway is 423 miles long. Because it is less than 25 feet deep, it is defined as a shallow-draft channel. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers maintains the waterway at an authorized width of 125 feet and depth of 12 feet. The waterway is directly linked with Texas’ 12 deep-draft port channels and 15 shallow-draft ports. The GIWW also connects to the interstate marine thoroughfare of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers, two of the busiest waterways in the country.

The GIWW is the third busiest canal in the United States. It largely accommodates barge traffic, the most effective use of the waterway. According to the Waterborne Commerce Statistics Center, the GIWW carries an estimated 110 to 125 million tons of goods per year. Average annual tonnage moved on the Texas portion of the waterway is 60 to 90 million tons of goods each year. Because the GIWW is a shallow-draft facility, almost all traffic on the canal is domestic. However, in recent years, some volumes of international cargo have been moved on the waterway.

Texas relies heavily on water transportation to provide safe and efficient movement of cargo by barge. The steady increases in waterway commerce along the GIWW are attributed to its accessibility to the ports of the Gulf of Mexico and the Midwest through the Mississippi River.

Texas Legislation. The State of Texas acts as the local nonfederal sponsor of the main channel of the GIWW from the Sabine River to the Brownsville Ship Channel. State responsibility for the GIWW began with the passage of the Texas Coastal Waterway Act of 1975 by the 64th Texas Legislature. This legislation is now Chapter 51 of the Transportation Code of the Texas Statutes. The act instructed the State Highway and Public Transportation Commission, now the Texas Transportation Commission (TTC), to act as a representative of the state in fulfilling the duties of the nonfederal sponsor, as determined by federal law, consistent with the policy of the State of Texas. This act, amended by the 74th Texas legislature, authorized TTC to enter into agreement with the Corps of Engineers in the cost-sharing of developing beneficial use projects for GIWW dredged materials.

Policy. It is a policy of the State of Texas to support the marine commerce and economy of this state by providing for the shallow-draft navigation of the coastal waters in an environmentally sound fashion. The state will prevent waste of both publicly and privately owned natural resources, prevent or minimize adverse impacts on the environment, and maintain, preserve, and enhance wildlife and fisheries. To accomplish this, the State of Texas, through TTC, acts as the nonfederal sponsor of the main channel of the GIWW from the Sabine River to the Brownsville Ship Channel.

The department’s policy is to maximize preservation of existing transportation infrastructure and services for all modes of transportation. Consistent with preserving the existing infrastructure, the department’s policy is to preserve the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway. TxDOT’s Transportation Planning and Programming Division (TPP) is responsible for representing the department in preserving the GIWW.

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Coordination

The State of Texas, as the nonfederal sponsor of the GIWW, works to provide coordination and cooperation to the federal sponsor, the Corps of Engineers. The state is charged with providing the necessary lands, easements, relocations, and realignments required during construction and maintenance of the GIWW. The GIWW and other navigation channels must be regularly dredged to provide ample clearance for both commercial and recreational maritime traffic wishing to successfully navigate the facility.

Environmental Affairs Division. The Environmental Affairs Division (ENV) acts in an advisory capacity to the Multimodal Section for development and review of environmental documents for waterway activities.

Right of Way Division. Representatives from the Right of Way Division (ROW) aid in coordinating with owners of prospective dredged material placement sites. Coordination includes the identification of landowners, preparing right of entry request, and informing landowners of methods used in acquiring land for dredged material placement.

GIWW Advisory Committee. The GIWW Advisory Committee (GIWAC) was formed by TxDOT to act as an interagency advisory committee. Its primary responsibility is to assist in identifying and developing environmentally sound and economically feasible dredged material placement sites by providing coordination, comments, recommendations, and concurrence of proposed sites for TxDOT acquisition. The committee is comprised of representatives from the:

  • Texas Parks and Wildlife Department
  • Texas General Land Office
  • Texas Historical Commission
  • Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission
  • Texas Economic Development Commission
  • Texas Governor’s Office.

At the request of TxDOT, a GIWAC Task Force may be formed. The task force typically provides assistance to the Multimodal Section during site evaluations by visually inspecting the sites with the understanding of their critical elements and providing recommendations on sites for TxDOT acquisition.

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Technical Assistance

Technical Assistance to the Corps of Engineers. The development of various plans for GIWW dredged material placement may require the evaluation of placement designs, environmental documents, or other technical documents. The Corps of Engineers typically prepares these documents and provides them to the Multimodal Section. The Multimodal Section forwards the environmental documents to the Environmental Affairs Division for review. The Multimodal Section performs the final reviews of the environmental documents, placement designs, or other technical documents.

Texas Coastal Management Program (CMP) and Coastal Coordination Council. The Texas Coastal Management Program manages Texas coastal resources. Developed in the early 1990s, the CMP is responsible for coordinating federal, state, and local programs regarding the coastal natural resource areas which include the GIWW. The Multimodal Section ensures that all work regarding the waterways is consistent with the CMP.

The creation of the CMP established the Coastal Coordination Council as a forum for the coordination of federal, state, and local programs as well as activities along the coast. The Coastal Coordination Council, of which the Texas Transportation Commission is a member, administers or oversees the plan for the Texas Coastal Management Program. The department advises the commission on CMP technical issues.

Bi-annual Report to Legislature. By statute, TxDOT is required to submit a bi-annual report to the legislature outlining the general status of the GIWW and evaluating current aspects of the GIWW. The evaluation shall include an assessment of the direct and indirect beneficiaries, identification of problems and possible solutions, the need for significant modifications to the GIWW, and specific recommendations for legislative actions.

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