To meet the multiple challenges of high container volumes, large vessels, and the need for more sustainable operations, many ports are embarking on large capital improvement projects. Here’s what’s on board.
It was a turbulent time for many ports. Between mid-2020 and mid-2021, the volume of twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) handled in North American ports jumped 29%, says Jason Price, director of research at real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield.
Even when comparing the first half of 2021 to the second half of 2019 — the last six months before COVID shuts down most economies — port volumes are up 13.4%.
Besides fluctuating cargo volumes, many ports must accommodate larger container ships. Between 2008 and 2018, both the average and maximum size of container ships doubled, the International Transport Forum reports. The largest container ships now boast capacities of around 20,000 TEUs.
These changes have contributed to delays in some ports. As of mid-September 2021, for example, there were 56 ships waiting to dock off the coast of California.
Even as volumes rise and ships swell, a growing number of ports—particularly those on the West Coast of the United States—are focusing on identifying cleaner fuels and reducing the carbon emissions of their operations, says Matt Gooden, president and CEO of Centerline Logistics in Seattle.
Jeff Massingel, Director of PE, Ports and Marine at HDR Inc. , a design and engineering firm: “The pandemic, e-commerce, big ships, and shifts in shipping are all driving big changes.” Global climate change and greening initiatives are also prompting port leaders to plan for a more sustainable future.
To meet the multiple challenges of rising container volumes, large vessels, and the need for more sustainable operations, many ports are embarking on large capital improvement projects. Here are just a few.
Northwest Ports Alliance: Green Light
The fifth largest container gateway in North America, the Northwest Seaport Alliance (NWSA) operates containers, breakers, automobiles, and some bulk terminals in Seattle and Tacoma, Washington.
The NWSA has had a busy few years. In 2019, Husky Terminal opened in the Port of Tacoma. With eight super post-Panamax cranes and other quay reconfiguration projects, the terminal can serve two 18,000-TEU container ships.
Additionally, completing Lot F, the off-station entrance gate and truck waiting area for Husky Terminal, adds lanes and RFID reader technology for trucks. This “helps reduce congestion on the streets and improve the overall efficiency of stations,” says spokeswoman Melanie Stambo.
Along with its private partners, the NWSA has committed more than $500 million to modernize Building 5 in Seattle, says Stampo. When complete, the updated terminal will have 185 acres of terminal capacity, a railroad platform, and 1,500 refrigerated sockets, among other features.
The NWSA is also adding beach power and other green technologies. For example, the upgrade of Terminal 5 includes the installation of coastal energy infrastructure, which allows a ship to conduct electricity while at berth, reducing air emissions.
“By equipping our terminals to handle very large container ships, cargo traffic can increase while we reduce the impact on the Puget Sound’s surrounding habitat,” adds Stambaugh.
Gulfport Harbor: A Blue Economy
The Gulfport Port Recovery Program (PGRP), which began after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and was completed in 2019, doubled the footprint at the Port of Gulfport to nearly 300 acres, said spokesperson Kimberly Aguilard. It also added new tenant facilities, and a 300,000-square-foot warehouse for dry and cold storage, with frozen storage capacity. Three gantry cranes have been added from the ship to the shore as well.
In February 2020, the US Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration awarded the port on the Mississippi Gulf Coast a $15.7 million grant to the Gulfport Port Access Project, which will improve the road infrastructure that feeds the port and enhance intermodal connectivity, enhancing efficiency. The project also includes a bridge over US Highway 90, and the implementation of an Intelligent Transportation System (ITS).
Through a partnership with the University of Southern Mississippi, the port has developed a roadmap that will build new capabilities for the Mississippi blue economy. (The term “blue economy” refers to the sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, including shipping, livelihood improvement, and ocean ecosystem health.) This includes a $30 million investment to create the Roger F. Wicker Center for Ocean Ventures, which began in November 2019, says Aguillard.
The center will facilitate investments in cutting-edge engineering and the development of advanced technology. It is expected to be completed in April 2022.
Long Beach Harbor: Big Ship Ready
The Middle Harbor Terminal Redevelopment Project in the Port of Long Beach in California is a 10-year, $1.49 billion construction program. It combines two advanced shipping terminals into a state-of-the-art green container terminal.
The new Long Beach container terminal was completed in the summer of 2021 and has an annual capacity of 3.3 million TEUs. With 14 ship-to-shore gantry cranes, the terminal can receive three ships simultaneously. It can hold 22,000 TEUs, says Rick Cameron, executive vice president.
In addition, the new terminal’s berth rail yard is designed to handle 1.1 million TEUs annually. This will help reduce truck traffic.
The improvement of the rail yard at Pier B, an $870 million project, will expand rail capacity and help streamline curbside rail operations at stations. “We are committed to providing the necessary infrastructure to continue to ensure that the gateway is cost-effective,” Cameron says.
At the same time, the port strives to remain friendly to the community and achieve its environmental goals. For example, with electrically powered cargo handling equipment, Middle Harbor is one of the cleanest cargo terminals in the world, Cameron says.
An updated 4,200-foot wharf provides shoreside electricity that ships can use while at anchor, enabling them to turn off diesel engines and lower emissions. The goal is to strike a balance between trade and environmental protection. “We make sure we’re doing the things we need to,” Cameron says, though it’s not easy.
Manatee: Supporting the needs of future growth
The Port of Manatee, a deep sea port located at the entrance to Tampa Bay, “is positioning itself to become a major port for servicing small Asian containers within the next two years,” says Charles de Tillotson, chief commercial officer. Optimal service requires fast connectivity to the US Florida corridor markets, I-75 and I-95, particularly container service that continues into the US Gulf, to ports such as Houston or New Orleans, or ships in transit to and from Mexico. Add.
To this end, the port is building container yard and gateway infrastructure capacity to support future terminal and gate growth needs, with a vision to capture a third container carrier in the expanded container yard, says Carlos Boqueras, CEO.
The Port of Manati is also completing the second phase of the container yard expansion, adding 9.3 acres to the existing 10-acre facility, representing a $13 million investment. Tillotson adds that the container yard expansion project adds contiguous acres of storage space to the 40-foot deep water berths and facilitates increased production for loading and unloading container ships.
Expanding the port’s north gate will increase departure lanes from two to four. The project also includes a technology upgrade, including the implementation of advanced badge readers for port-issued Port Transfer Worker ID badges and TWIC badges.
“This project upgrade improves the port’s security posture for entry and exit while facilitating turn times for our customer’s trucking partners,” says Tillotson.
Port of Montreal: improvement and expansion
Over the past ten years, the volume of cargo in the Port of Montreal on the Saint Lawrence River has increased by about 15%. That includes a jump in trade with Asia, from about 3% of traffic in 2008 to nearly 30% of container volumes at the port today, says Melanie Nadeau, vice president of public affairs and community relations.
“With two-thirds of Canada’s population located in Quebec and Ontario, BCOs (beneficiary cargo owners) are quickly realizing the benefits and advantages of using the Port of Montreal to trade with Asia, and they continue to include and increase the portion of Montreal in their strategies,” says Nadeau.
A number of improvements enable the port to deal with this growth. In December 2020, the Port of Montreal completed construction on the FIAO Container Terminal. This increased the port’s container handling capacity by 350,000 TEUs. The project also included the installation of two gantry cranes with a height of 95.5 meters each (about 104 yards).
The port is also improving facilities at Bickerdike Station, which was built in 1896. Improvements include redevelopment of truck access, overhaul of the rail network, and upgrading of electric capacity.
The largest expansion project in the history of the Port of Montreal is also underway – the Expansion of Contrequiere, about 45 kilometers (28 miles) northeast of Montreal. “We are developing a container terminal there that will eventually have a capacity of 1.15 million TEUs,” Nadeau says.
Among other features, the terminal will include two berths, a container handling area and a multimodal crowd yard connected to the main rail network. Work is expected to be completed in 2025.
South Carolina Ports Authority: Going deeper
As of mid-2021, East Coast ports’ share of imports is at a record 45%, according to Cushman & Wakefield’s North American Ports Report, Mid-2021.
In recent years, leadership in the South Carolina Ports Authority, which owns and operates the Port of Charleston, the Port of Georgetown, Inland Port Greer, and Inland Port Dillon, has invested more than $2 billion to boost capacity and handle retail flows and cargo volumes, says Liz Cromley, Director of Communications. .
For example, the launch of operations at the Hugh K. Leatherman terminal in March 2021 marked the first port container terminal in the United States in more than a decade. The first phase of Leatherman Terminal, a $1 billion investment, has added 700,000 TEU of capacity and a 1,400-foot berth to the Port of Charleston and the East Coast port market.
The terminal can handle 20,000 TEU vessels and features five ship-to-shore cranes 169 feet above the quay deck, as well as 25 hybrid rubber-tired gantry cranes. When fully built, the three-berth terminal will have an annual production capacity of 2.4 million TEUs.
Work is also continuing to modernize the Wando Welch Terminal, also in the Port of Charleston, so that it can handle standard cargo volumes and mega container ships. The complete renovation will result in 15 ship-to-shore cranes 155 feet above the quay deck, 65 rubber-tired gantry cranes, and a more efficient terminal, among other features.
The Charleston Harbor Deepening project is on track to reach a depth of 52 feet by 2022. This will make it the deepest harbor on the East Coast.
I look ahead
Even as freight volumes have stabilized somewhat, many ports will continue to face challenges. One of the main factors is adaptation to climate change. “We’re starting to see more focus on planning for future sea-level rise,” says Massingel. He adds that given that ports depend on waterborne traffic, many have begun to assess these risks and adopt mitigation measures.
The bipartisan federal infrastructure bill, as reported in July 2021, included about $17 billion for port infrastructure. If approved, it would direct significant funds to projects that include consideration of sea level rise, sustainability, zero-emissions technology, and benefits to disadvantaged communities. “This could be a major opportunity for many ports to make necessary upgrades and modernization efforts,” says Massingel.