Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Houston Port and Texas Freight and Passenger Traffic Recovers from Hurricane Harvey

The Cost is Counted as Drones Assess the Damage as New Driving Law Introduced
Shipping News Feature

US – As Texas licks its wounds after the rampaging Hurricane Harvey at last ceased its battering of the Houston area life is returning to normal for many residents, but will never be the same for others who lost virtually everything in the storm. Problems with freight and private traffic remain with roads from San Antonio in the west to New Orleans in the east affected.

The current state of the roads can be judged by an interactive map available here, which is being constantly updated, coupled with current warnings, the latest pointing out that, although flood conditions are improving across southeast Texas, rivers continue to discharge the vast quantities of unprecedented rainfall. Closed or flooded conditions are still present on major and minor routes, and could continue through the week.

Drivers are warned that should they come across a road with water flowing across it they should find an alternative route and underscores the fact that bypassing flood barricades is against the law (and an extremely silly thing to do).

With at least 46 dead and 30,000 more displaced from their homes all efforts are being made to mitigate the effects of a disaster which preliminary estimates say will cost $120 billion dollars overall. Help has come from the most unusual sources, with many properties still impossible to access by normal means many of the states 2,000 licensed drone operators are assisting the authorities to assess the damage.

The aerial investigators have gained special licences from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and several have been utilised already by such as Union Pacific Railroad and a slew of oil and gas operators to understand the situation with regard to their infrastructure whilst the machines have been buzzing their way over and under essential road and rail bridges.

Allstate Insurance is another company which utilises drones, and the Hurricane Harvey situation will see it conduct hundreds of such operations using an aerial imaging specialist it has worked with for some years. The company even advises non policy holders on how they should proceed via a dedicated website.

At the Port of Houston things are returning to normal with the Barbours Cut and Bayport terminals and Jacintoport now open for business from Friday September 1 and the Port Houston Container Terminals now working vessels as they are cleared for transit. Full details of the situation at the Port can be seen here.

Still in Texas the state authorities made driving whilst texting illegal as from 1 September. The new law prohibits motorists from reading, writing or sending electronic messages while driving. Last year, 109,658 traffic crashes in Texas involved distracted driving. Those crashes resulted in 455 deaths and 3,087 serious injuries – almost ten times the death toll from the Hurricane.

While distracted drivers risk injuring or killing themselves and others, they also now face penalties under the new state-wide law. A first offence is punishable by a fine up to $99; any subsequent offence carries a fine up to $200. Drivers should be aware that some cities have additional ordinances that are more restrictive. Exceptions to the new law include emergency communication or electronic messaging when the vehicle is stopped.

Drivers under 18 already cannot use a cell phone, even in hands free mode, except in emergencies whilst details of the new ordinance will be prominently displayed on signs alongside highways. Texas Department of Transport (TxDoT) Executive Director James Bass commented:

“One in five crashes in Texas is caused by distracted driving. We are pleased the Texas Legislature recognizes the extreme danger caused by texting and driving. The new law sends a very clear message to Texans to put down their phones and focus on the road. We are hopeful this new law will help save lives and reduce injuries.”