Smiling faces are part of the expectation when a major development project comes to completion, and they certainly were in place recently at Port Freeport.
Port, business and community leaders gathered June 18 to officially christen the completion of Phase 1 of the Parcel 14 Rail Development project. The 21,000 linear feet of rail track crosses behind the Port Ministry building and not far from Port Freeport headquarters. Passing railcars will serve as a constant reminder of the economic engine running on the new tracks.
Port leaders’ smiles weren’t reserved for the project just completed, though. They’re buzzing about the expanding opportunity the Parcel 14 rail hub has for the future, and the community should be excited about it, too.
Last month the port learned it would receive a $6.3 million federal grant to help pay for the project’s next phase. That project will build 24,000 linear feet of four main tracks adjacent to those just put into service parallel to Highway 36.
Phase 2 construction is expected to cost $10 million, officials said.
The tracks will serve a multimodal industrial park with warehouse space, distribution facilities, areas for new vehicle processing and storage for the Horizon Terminal Services expansion.
More importantly for Brazoria County residents, the rail lines mean fewer big rigs clogging traffic and tearing up highways. Reducing the number of 18-wheelers also will reduce the amount of pollution they belch into the air, bringing both economic and environmental benefits to the region.
It also makes the transit of goods from the port safer, officials said.
“If you can put that on rail, that’s a huge win for everyone,” Port Freeport Executive Director/CEO Phyllis Saathoff said.
A frequent target of anti-taxers who believe the port should be self-sustaining, projects such as Parcel 14 push it toward the minimal tax rate that can be expected from a government-created entity. Once the rate swap promised under last year’s $130 million bond election takes place, Port Freeport will receive a penny per $100 of appraised property value, with the remainder going toward debt payments. Factor in homestead and other exemptions and the amount required for maintenance and operation of the port is even less.
That seems like a good return on investment for local taxpayers, especially when considering the amount of economic impact the port provides. The Texas A&M Transportation Institute’s last calculation indicated a $46.2 billion combined economic impact and 126,000 direct, indirect and induced jobs as of 2014, Saathoff said. That impact likely is far greater now considering the additional cargo passing through the port.
The multimodal industrial park will raise the amount of traffic passing through Port Freeport while offsetting truck traffic passing through our communities. That is a winning formula for the Brazosport area and beyond.