U.S. ports in race to be ready for increased Panama Canal traffic
Workers help to construct a new set of locks at Panama Canal on July 1.
December 16th, 2011
07:42 PM ET

U.S. ports in race to be ready for increased Panama Canal traffic

Ports along the U.S. East and Gulf Coasts are racing to expand so that they can take on an anticipated growth in shipping once an expanded Panama Canal opens.

(Click the audio player to hear more on this story from CNN Radio's Steve Kastenbaum)

New locks are expected to be completed at the Panama Canal in 2014. They’ll enable much larger ships to pass through the canal, providing these ships to take direct routes between Asia and the U.S. East Coast.

“It will dramatically change the dynamics of shipping to the East Coast, or at least that’s the expectation of some in the industry,” said Manju Chandrasekhar, a vice president with the engineering firm Halcrow. He’s been working on port expansions and other infrastructure projects for the past 16 years.

“These ships are bigger. It also means that they sit deeper in the water. The industry term is the draft,” Chandrasekhar said. “They draw a deeper draft, which means that the navigation channels, or the access waterways, to these ports will need to be deepened in certain ports.”

Billions of dollars worth of expansion projects are taking place at U.S. ports from New York to Miami. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is raising the roadbed of the Bayonne Bridge, which links Staten Island, New York, and Bayonne, New Jersey, by 64 feet so the larger ships can fit beneath the span.

The Port of Savannah, Georgia, also is undergoing improvements, with officials there expecting a big increase in business when the Panama Canal expansion is finished.

“We are the fourth-busiest container port in the United States,” said Curtis Foltz, executive director of the Georgia Ports Authority. “We’ve spent about $1.1 billion modernizing our facilities - that’s the inside of our terminals - and the state is going to spend close to another $200 million in near-port road and rail access.”

Like other facilities along the East Coast, the Savannah port also is asking the Army Corps of Engineers to deepen and widen the navigational channel leading to the port. At Savannah, this is at a projected cost of $600 million. But the port is more than 35 miles upstream, and environmental groups have voiced concerns about the impact on the Savannah River.

“It’s a huge investment for commerce,” Foltz said. “If it were just for the state of Georgia, one might question the investment. But in that it’s about serving commerce more efficiently for the entire Southeast, it’s something that our nation needs and consumers and producers of goods deserve.”

Meanwhile, 130 miles south of Savannah, the Port of Jacksonville, Florida is gearing up in the same way.

“We’re preparing for the future,” said Paul Anderson, CEO of the Jacksonville Port Authority. “We’ve built a new terminal in a public-private partnership that will double our capacity to almost 2 million containers of capability here at JaxPort.

"We’ve just received new cranes. And we’re also looking, as are many ports along the East Coast, to continually deepen our channel to accommodate larger ships.”

All of those ports are asking for tax dollars for some aspects of their expansion projects. But the federal government looks at the requests on an individual basis. No agency is tasked with looking at cargo facilities in the United States as a whole. No government entity is looking at the big picture and determining where it makes the most sense to spend the limited tax dollars that are available.

“Clearly, there should be ... a national strategy,” Anderson said.

He would like to see a national freight policy that sets forth an intermodal plan for moving cargo efficiently in and out of the United States well into the future.

“All ports will gain from it, and I don’t think there will be any winners and losers,” he said.

Cargo shipments in the United States are expected to double over the next few decades because of the increase in global population.

“Yes, we are competing for the same business, but if you double that business in 20 years, there is plenty of cargo prospectively that will allow all ports to capture enough cargo to be winners,” Anderson said.

While Anderson says there needs to be some guidance from the federal government, Kurt Nagel, president of the American Association of Port Authorities, doesn't want government getting too involved.

“I think there is a benefit in having that decision making at the local level where they recognize their market, they know what cargo is flowing through their ports and has the potential to flow through the ports,” Nagel said. “They know what their strengths are, what their weaknesses are, and then they can make that determination at the local level with their local resources whether that investment makes sense or not.”

Despite predictions of the expanded Panama Canal dramatically changing worldwide shipping, no one can say how it’s going to change and which ports will benefit. The only thing certain is the number of options available to shipping companies will increase. Economists say more options mean more competition, and that keeps prices for goods from rising too much.

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soundoff (33 Responses)
  1. Fox News

    FIRST!

    December 16, 2011 at 10:45 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Jennifer

    Big and Great news! .......and barely any coverage or praise about it....

    December 16, 2011 at 10:48 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Daniel Lee

    The Panama Canal is being operated by a Chinese group. The expansion of the canal and the US ports will only contribute to more Chinese imports and more trade deficit to the US.

    December 16, 2011 at 10:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • b

      true

      December 16, 2011 at 11:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • Research In Mutton

      Wrong! Since 31 December 1999 the canal is under the command of the Panama Canal Authority, an agency of the Panamanian government. Perhaps you are confusing this with the 220 km railway the Chinese are conteplating between Colombia's Pacific and Caribbean coasts.

      December 16, 2011 at 11:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • Research In Mutton

      "contemplating"...my bad

      December 16, 2011 at 11:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Robert

      Absolutely not true

      December 17, 2011 at 1:41 am | Report abuse |
  4. joey

    went through there a couple years ago, very busy place. boats from all over waiting in line

    December 16, 2011 at 10:59 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Johnny wazhere

    finally goooooood news

    December 16, 2011 at 11:27 pm | Report abuse |
  6. sameeker

    And who is paying to expand these ports and raise bridges? Is it the companies that profit or the taxpayers? Don't expect prices to go down due to decreased shipping costs either.

    December 16, 2011 at 11:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • mfx3

      Based on the way you phrased the question, it sounds like you know the answer and aren't happy about it. Of course, you could just be whining about something you know nothing about...

      December 17, 2011 at 1:29 am | Report abuse |
  7. F1

    This is a good idea ,,,, more jobs maybe? The longshoremen will be hiring now the only pro blem is they will hire there sons daughters etc, so nepatism will continue to reign in these jobs, so the jobs will be just as difficult to obtain, im sure that if my daddy or brother were working in the LA or long ports i would be able to land employment immediately, even without a drug test !

    December 16, 2011 at 11:56 pm | Report abuse |
  8. clearfog

    A man, a plan, a canal. Panama.

    December 17, 2011 at 12:21 am | Report abuse |
  9. John N Florida

    The next important infrastructure task is to improve the rail facilities at these ports so the goods can move inland on high speed trains at 1/10th the cost of trucking. High speed passenger rail makes sense in the north east corridor and maybe some areas like Chicago and LA. There are probably other examples.
    High speed freight rail makes sense for the entire country.

    December 17, 2011 at 12:54 am | Report abuse |
  10. John MacDaniel, Huntsville AL

    The railroads were trashed by a republican president just after the 2nd World War which also saw massive highways built and multiple airports expanded to expedite the republican new deal that provided subsidies galore without the thought of who was going to continue to pay for all of this, and no thought of upgrades and/or maintenance. The republicans will still fight tooth and nail against any attempt to provide any modern rail system – especially if it would also provide for high-speed passenger rail service that would cost less than the current subsidies for airports and highways simply because the republicans want what is best for their supporters – not what would be best for the rest of us.

    December 17, 2011 at 2:08 am | Report abuse |
  11. Bugs Ears

    Interesting how deep in debt we are and they want to expand . another thing that interesting is the special machinary that will be coming in and has in the past. Hmmm one has to wonder?

    December 17, 2011 at 7:45 am | Report abuse |
  12. ┴┴∩И╛╛∩Я ( ½ ELF slayer & ½ BUGBEAR KILLER )

    good... we will beable to buy more stuff from china..
    .
    now the prices will go down on the east coast walmart's

    December 17, 2011 at 8:54 am | Report abuse |
  13. Bugs Ears

    🙂 Morning RUFFNUTT

    December 17, 2011 at 9:37 am | Report abuse |
  14. ┴┴∩И╛╛∩Я ( ½ ELF slayer & ½ BUGBEAR KILLER )

    HOLA AMIGO.. sorry i'd post more but i been busy playing wordss with friends...

    December 17, 2011 at 9:50 am | Report abuse |
  15. Bugs Ears

    Huh, whatta mean?

    December 17, 2011 at 9:52 am | Report abuse |
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