A man, a plan, a canal – Panama. The familiar palindrome is taking on new meaning for deep-water ports across the United States.
The Panama Canal Authority is in the midst of a $5 billion expansion of the famed shipping channel that is expected to wrap up in time for the canal’s 100th anniversary in 2014. Widening and deepening sections of the canal, adding two new locks and adding a new access channel is expected to double capacity as more and larger vessels make their way from Asian markets to West Coast, Gulf Coast and East Coast ports in the United States.
As noted in a report released in February by the National Association of Development Organizations (NADO), the Panama Canal expansion has helped spark a flurry of projects at U.S. ports as they prepare for what they expect will be an increase in activity. Many regions, the report notes, are working to improve their integrated freight transportation assets – ports, rail and road – in anticipation of new volumes of freight containers.
On the West Coast, the Port of Los Angeles is at work on several projects including dredging and terminal construction, the Port of Long Beach has begun work on a new container facility and the Port of Tacoma is extending berths.
Texas bosats 13 deep-water ports, including the Port of Houston, a 25-mile stretch of public and private facilities. The Port of Houston is adding berthing space and has dredged its shipping channel to 45 feet and widened it to accommodate the larger “Post Panamax” shipping vessels. Port Corpus Christi is the sixth-largest port in the United States in total tonnage and is the hub of a sophisticated multimodal transportation infrastructure.
East Coast ports, including the Port of Virginia, Port of Savannah and Port of Charleston, are also making improvements, driven in part by increased activity and in part by the impact the Panama Canal project is expected to bring.
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is spending $1 billion to raise clearance under the Bayonne Bridge to accommodate Post Panamax vessels. The authority already has dredged the shipping channel to 50 feet and is adding cranes to handle Post Panamax containers.
The Port of Charleston has embarked on a 10-year, $1.3 billion capital plan for both new and existing port facilities, particularly dockside infrastructure, driven in part by expected 9increase in activity driven by the Panama Canal project.
Multimodal systems are taking on increased significance in economic development, and as the NADO study notes, that will remain the case for many locales regardless of the Panama Canal project’s impact. An inland example of this can be seen in Charlotte, where Norfolk Southern is investing $90 million in a truck and rail facility at Charlotte Douglas International Airport that will give direct access to Interstate 77 and I-85 and a straight line to ports in Charleston, Savannah and Jacksonville, FL.
NADO notes that not all regions will see direct benefit from the new shipping patterns opened up by Panama Canal expansion, but it offers a number of recommendations to communities for gathering information and data, developing relationships among stakeholders and condcuting integrated transportation and economic development planning. “By creating strategic partnerships and linking freight transportation to economic development strategies to prioritize investments, those that are planning ahead
will position themselves to attract and retain businesses,” the report says.
Will the Panama Canal expansion have any impact on your community’s transportation infrastructure and economic development planning? How do you see increased Asian trade impacting your region? How do transportation assets fit into your economic development strategy? Share your thoughts.