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  February 20th, 2015 | Written by

Changing Channels

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America’s Gulf and East Coast seaports are scrambling to accommodate the 8,000+ TEU (twenty-foot equivalent unit) ships that will navigate the expanded Panama Canal once it becomes operational in 2016. That’s because a port is considered Post-Panamax ready when it has met three key criteria: channel depth of 50 feet with sufficient channel width and turning basin size; cranes capable of loading and unloading Post-Panamax ships; and docks engineered to handle new, bigger cranes. Here’s where some key ports stand:

Completion of the $1.3 billion “Raise the Roadway” project on the Bayonne Bridge is scheduled for summer 2016. The effort involves lifting the road from 151 to 215 feet within the confines of the bridge’s current arch. Meanwhile, PANYNJ is working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to deepen the turning basin for

“Once harbor deepening reaches the stated goal of 50 + 2 feet [two feet of clearance underneath the keel] we do not expect any restrictions imposed on larger vessels,” says Lenis Rodrigues, PANYNJ spokeswoman.

The Delaware River Main Channel Deepening Project is on schedule and making remarkable progress. “We have high hopes for full completion by 2017,” reports Don Brennan, Governmental and Public Affairs director, Philadelphia Regional Port Authority (PRPA).
PRPA anticipates accommodating more commerce when greenfield Southport Marine Terminal becomes a reality. A Request for Expressions of Interest (REI) was issued on Oct. 1, 2014, to establish Public Private Partnership interest. On Nov. 14, PRPA received 16 proposals from interested parties.

Seagirt Terminal in Baltimore met the 50-foot depth requirement and became Post-Panamax ready in 2012. That year, Seagirt operator Ports America Chesapeake also completed construction of a new 50-foot container berth that was accompanied by four Super-Post-Panamax cranes in January 2013. This makes the Port of Baltimore and Port of Virginia the only East Coast ports with both a 50-foot channel and a 50-foot berth.

“Ports America has invested a quarter billion dollars in the port,” says Maryland Port Administration Executive Director James J. White. “They see it as a great opportunity as business grows.”
But problematic are impediments to double-stack intermodal rail traveling to and from the port.

With 50-foot-deep channels since 2006 and berths all 50 feet, the Port of Virginia is the first East Coast port to be Post-Panamax ready. Norfolk International Terminals has 14 Super-Post-Panamax cranes. The port also has congressional authorization for a 55-foot channel. Since February 2014, the port began taking deliberate steps to improve overall cargo velocity. “We’re continuing to implement constructive changes to better serve our customers and stakeholders,” says Virginia Port Authority CEO and Executive Director John F. Reinhart.

South Carolina Ports Authority (SPCA) is moving ahead with its Charleston Harbor Deepening Project. USACE released its study in October 2014 that recommends the harbor be deepened to 52 feet. Completion of the final study is expected this September, at which time USACE will present it to Congress in hopes it approves $166 million of funding for the $510 million project. (SPCA is paying $343 million.) If authorized, harbor deepening could be completed by the end of 2019. Meanwhile, construction is under way on the 288-acre Navy Base Container Terminal with Phase I anticipated to open in 2019.

Since the signing of the Water Resources Reform and Development Act on June 10, 2014, Georgia Ports Authority (GPA) has been fast tracking its Savannah Harbor Expansion Project (SHEP). The endeavor will deepen the inner harbor to 47 feet at low tide and the entrance channel to 49 feet, and also extend the channel by seven miles. SHEP’s completion is expected in 2018.

“A deeper harbor will complement the land-side infrastructure improvements and increase the Port of Savannah’s capacity and improve services,” says GPA Executive Director Curtis Foltz. Those enhancements include increasing the number of ship-to-shore cranes from 22 to 30 and rubber-tired gantry cranes from 116 to 169.

With initial engineering and design work already begun, JAXPORT is on schedule to deepen its shipping channel to 47 feet, starting as early as 2016. Construction is under way on the port’s Intermodal Container Transfer Facility at Dames Point, which should be operational late this year. Six berths that are also being rebuilt at Blount Island Marine Terminal are expected to be finalized this year.

“We are preparing docks at Blount Island to accept 100-gauge cranes and in October signed a contract to purchase three new Super-Post-Panamax cranes for the terminal,” says JAXPORT Executive Vice President Roy Schleicher.

Port Everglades is advancing its 18-year effort to deepen and widen its Outer Entrance Channel to 55 and 800 feet, respectively, and deepen the Inner Entrance Channel and Main Turning Basin to 48 feet. Other improvements include widening the constrained Southport Access Channel, including a “knuckle” area, by about 250 feet. Construction is anticipated to be completed by 2022.

“This is a game-changer,” says PortMiami Director Juan Kuryla about the port deepening its channel from 42 feet to 52 feet, scheduled to be completed this year. Other efforts for big-ship readiness include PortMiami recently acquiring Post-Panamax cranes and the Florida Department of Transportation’s construction of a $500 million tunnel for trucks to transport cargo directly from the port to Interstate 95. An on-dock rail loading facility that links to Florida East Coast Railway (FCC) was also added, making it possible for FCC to load at the port and take shipments to its ramp in Hialeah.

In addition to dredging Bayport and Barbours Cut to 45 feet, Port of Houston is investing $700 million during the next decade at Barbours Cut to accommodate larger vessels and increase its capacity. “We recently completed construction of 1,300 feet of wharf,” reports Bill Hensel, spokesman for the port. Four new Super-Post-Panamax container cranes are being assembled and will ship early this year. In 2014, Port of Houston was awarded $10 million to expand the next berth at Bayport. “We have built 3,300 feet of wharf and this grant will fund 700 feet. Completed, it will be 7,000 feet,” Hensel adds.