At Port of Houston, Jobs Debate Centers on Truck Loads

Trucks being loaded in the Port of Houston
Trucks being loaded in the Port of Houston

Here's the current workflow in the Port of Houston: Freight comes in. It’s transported by truck to nearby warehouses. And then it’s put on other trucks and shipped across the country.

But in Houston, if the freight coming off the boat weighs more than 80,000 pounds, it has to be broken into separate loads for that short trek to a warehouse — often about five miles.

Audio: Ben Philpott's story for KUT News

Jim Henderson and others who run some of those warehouses and short-haul trucks told lawmakers Monday that they want the 80,000-pound limit increased.

“It's not the global standard anymore,” said Henderson, who works for New Orleans Cold Storage, a shipping and warehouse company that uses refrigerated trucks. “South Carolina just changed theirs, and they were the last behind Houston. Houston is the last place where they have not updated the laws to react to the global standard."

According to Henderson, all other international ports have 100,000-pound limits. He said raising the limit in Houston would mean fewer trucks moving heavier loads, and a better profit margin.

And heavier trucks wouldn't necessarily mean additional road damage, said John Esparza, the president and CEO of the Texas Motor Transportation Association. He said Texas recently set a record by moving a 1.7 million-pound load across the state.

"And they tested the road base afterwards, and TxDOT came back and said there is virtually no damage done to this roadway," Esparza said. "And the reason was because they dispersed the weight properly and it was properly loaded."

But he's a little worried about that “properly loaded” part when talking about increasing weights by 20,000 pounds in Houston.

Some of the cargo trailers shipped to the port are not road ready, he said, which can lead to wrecks and road damage. And the trucker, not the load, gets the blame.

Changing the weight limits would require legislative action. Lawmakers could create a permitting process, as they did at the Port of Brownsville. That would add a cost to each load — money that goes back to repairing the roads.

But Esparza worries this issue isn't as easily resolved as creating a permit that would set truckers loose.

"We're going to be moving heavier weights across this, you know, whether you slap a permit on it or not — that doesn't make it right,” he said. “There's a whole bunch of other than just the trucking and shipping interests here."

But the Port of Houston still has a big advantage: location. Being in the middle of country helped it place No. 1 in foreign cargo shipments for the last 15 years.

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