The Port of Corpus Christi's Board of Commissioners announced Wednesday approval of agreements that will allow ship channel improvements to begin next year.

The improvements, along with the new Harbor Bridge, will allow the Port to handle the most modern supertankers.

"The Port Commission just approved the wording of the project partnership agreements, which allows us to begin the construction of the channel improvement project," said David Krams, Director of Engineering Services.

That means the Port will kick in the first $32 million of the $330 million project that calls for widening and deepening the channel from the current 47 feet to a new 54 feet.

Colonel Lars Zetterstrom, commander of the Galveston district of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said the improvements are substantial.

"To do some widenings, deepenings, many things," Zetterstrom said. "Barge lanes all the way from the entrance channel and then up to the main portion of the Port's facilities to enhance navigation, the effectiveness and the capacity of the vessels that navigate through the Corpus Christi shipping channel."

Port Executive Director John LaRue said they have been waiting 27 years to begin the improvement project, and once the Harbor Bridge is complete, the Port will be able to handle the largest ship traffic.

"Our industries will be more competitive," LaRue said. "They want to get into the market places. There's a lot of product that can be moved, much more product can be moved on a ship that can handle 54 than 47."

The improvements will cover the entire 36 miles of the ship channel from just offshore into the Port itself. Officials estimate the increased traffic will add an extra $7 billion a year in exports from the Port.

Between the lifting of the U.S. crude oil export ban in 2015 and the building of new pipelines from the Permian Basin to the Port, the improvements will make the Port one of the largest exporting ports in the nation.

"The first construction contract would begin out in the Gulf of Mexico and come into, in and around, the ferry landings at Port Aransas," Krams said.

Officials expect the channel improvements to begin early next year.