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HOUSTON-The Port of Houston’s commission has approved a $100.5-million contract with McCarthy Building Cos. Inc. for construction of a 1,330-foot wharf at the Bayport Terminal, a $1.4-billion container facility that opened in February. Port officials say the wharf, scheduled to be completed in about two years, is needed to handle rapid growth in container shipments.

“We had been operating our Barbour’s Cut facility at 150% of capacity,” Houston port chairman James T. Edmonds says. “We thought when we opened Bayport it would solve the problem, but less than half a year later, Barbour’s Cut is back at more than 100% of capacity. We need more room.”

According to Edmonds, container shipping at the port has been growing at 12% to 13% annually, with no slowing in sight. “We read a lot of literature that predicts huge growth in global container shipping,” he says. “We probably can’t build fast enough to keep up. It looks like we’ll have to start a third wharf when this one’s done.”

Studies conducted by the Texas Transportation Institute at Texas A&M University in College Station predict a continued worldwide container growth rate of 7.2% through 2010. The study estimates annual growth rates as high as 13% along the Gulf of Mexico.

According to port sources, development of Bayport will have a profound impact on the local economy. After five years of operation, the combined container and cruise terminal is projected to generate 9,825 jobs, $395.4 million in personal income, $1.1 billion in business revenue and $35.6 million in state and local taxes. At full build-out in about 15 years, the figures will be 32,163 jobs, $1.4 billion in personal income, $2.4 billion in business revenues and $128 million in state and local taxes.

When fully developed, the terminal will have seven container berths with the capacity to handle 2.3 million 20-foot equivalent container units annually. It will include a 376-acre container yard and 123-acre intermodal facility.

McCarthy, a 144-year-old St. Louis-based construction firm, has completed 10 projects for the port since 1991. In 2006, it received a $50.3-million contract for a 50-acre expansion of the container yard in the first phase of Bayport. The yard, originally planned to be 60 acres at opening, was enlarged to 110 yards for the facility’s official launch. Houston-based Dannenbaum Engineering Corp. designed the upcoming wharf project.

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