The 293- by 66-foot hybrid-powered ferry Esperanza “Hope” Andrade was designed by The Shearer Group and built by Gulf Island Fabrication. (Photo courtesy of The Shearer Group)

TxDOT Adds Hybrid Ferry To Galveston-Port Bolivar Fleet

The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) unveiled the newest member of its Galveston-to-Port Bolivar ferry fleet on March 8, a hybrid-powered vehicle and passenger ferry designed by Houston-based The Shearer Group and built by Gulf Island Fabrication in Houma, La.

The 293- by 66-foot doubled-ended ferry is named for a trailblazer of Texas politics, Esperanza “Hope” Andrade, the first woman to serve as chair of the Texas Transportation Commission and the first Latina to serve as Texas’ secretary of state.

“With the christening of this vessel bearing her name, we pay homage not only to her remarkable accomplishments but also to the beacon of progress she embodies,” TxDOT stated in a press release announcing the christening.

Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry appointed Andrade to the Texas Transportation Commission in December 2003. She served as chair of the commission from January 2008 until May of that year. Then, in July 2008, Perry appointed Andrade secretary of state. She served in that role until November 2012. She later served as the Texas Workforce Commissioner.

The Esperanza “Hope” Andrade, or Esperanza for short, has room for 495 passengers and a maximum of 70 passenger vessels or eight 18-wheelers per trip between Galveston Island and the Bolivar Peninsula, crossing the Houston Ship Channel in the process.

The Esperanza features a diesel-electric power generation system and a power management system for charging onboard batteries “for peak shaving to reduce fuel consumption and maximize efficiency and reliability,” according to Joshua Sebastian, vice president-operations for The Shearer Group.

“This means that during transit, only two generators will be online, with the batteries supplying the remainder of the power demands to the vessel,” Sebastian said. “While loading and unloading, the generators stay online and will use excess power to recharge the batteries.”

Like the other ferries carrying passengers between Galveston and Port Bolivar, the Esperanza makes the crossing in about 18 minutes. By comparison, traveling between the Bolivar Peninsula and Galveston Island by road alone requires at least two hours across more than 100 miles. The Galveston-to-Port Bolivar ferry is a free service operated by the Texas Department of Transportation.

Gulf Island Fabrication

The TxDOT ferry project and a pair of 40-vehicle ferries for the North Carolina Department of Transportation mark the end of shipyard operations for Gulf Island Fabrication, a company that has its roots in Louisiana’s offshore oil and gas industry going all the way back to Alden J. “Doc” Laborde. Laborde, who designed the first mobile offshore drilling rig in 1953, cofounded Gulf Island in 1985. The company became publicly traded in 1997.

Gulf Island launched its shipbuilding business line in 2008, building towboats and barges for companies like Pine Bluff Sand & Gravel, AEP River Operations, Florida Marine, Canal Barge, ARTCo, Wood Towing and Marquette Transportation. In fact, the three newest 10,000 hp. towboats operating on the Mississippi River today, Marquette’s mvs. Chad Pregracke, Loree Eckstein and Rick Calhoun, were all built at Gulf Island and delivered in 2015 (Rick Calhoun) and 2016.

Before those three, the last 10,000 hp. towboat to be built came out in 1981.

Gulf Island announced on April 19, 2021, the sale of its shipyard division assets and long-term contracts to Bollinger Shipyards for about $28.6 million. The sale did not include the three ferry contracts and two multipurpose service vessels (MPSV) intended for Hornbeck Offshore Services, which were under dispute. Last October, Gulf Island and Hornbeck announced the companies had settled their long-running dispute.

With the completion of its ferry projects, Gulf Island has completed the strategic pivot it began three years ago.

“While we continued to make important progress on our initiatives focused on the services and fabrication businesses, the most important achievements of 2023 center on the substantial completion of our shipyard wind-down and the successful resolution of the MPSV litigation,” Richard Heo, Gulf Island’s president and CEO, said in his March 7 report to investors. “With these distractions behind us, we are fully focused on taking advantage of the strong growth platform we have created in our services and fabrication businesses and utilizing our solid financial position to deploy capital to further enhance shareholder value.”

About a week prior, on February 27, Gulf Island announced the sale of $8.5 million worth of “certain excess property” from its facility in Houma.

Caption for photo: The 293- by 66-foot hybrid-powered ferry Esperanza “Hope” Andrade was designed by The Shearer Group and built by Gulf Island Fabrication. (Photo courtesy of The Shearer Group)