Florida gears up for opening of Panama Canal
State makes major infrastructure improvements to ports and rail systems in hopes that businesses will unload more freight at Ports of Miami, Everglades.
South Florida is primarily a consumer market. For every four container loads that head south down the Florida peninsula, only one full container comes back north. That offers excess capacity for shippers sending products up the coast. With the completion of the Panama Canal expansion, now targeted for early 2015, Florida is making major infrastructure improvements to ports and rail systems in hopes of attracting shippers looking to reach southeastern states quickly.
Over one billion dollars is being invested at the Port of Miami for several projects. A $225-million dredging project will begin next year and will be completed in 2014. This will bring the channel depth to 50 feet to accommodate the larger vessels that will make Miami the first port of call for many vessels after passing through the canal.
Another major project is the construction of a tunnel that will divert 1.5 million trucks annually from the Miami streets. Since the port is situated on a harbor island, the only current access is via a bridge that connects to downtown Miami. The tunnel will carry truck traffic away from the city and directly to Interstate 1-95—only four minutes away.
The port is also upgrading its rail links and creating an intermodal rail yard. Also being renovated is the bridge that carries rail cars from the port's island home to Florida East Coast Railway (FEC). FEC is the rail freight system that runs along the seaboard from Jacksonville to Miami.
Lastly, the Port of Miami will be adding four more super post-Panamax gantry cranes to the two already at the facility.
Port Everglades in nearby Fort Lauderdale also has expansion plans on the drawing board. It too is looking for approval and funding to dredge to 50 feet from its current 42-foot depth. It hopes the dredging will be finished by 2017. By then the port also plans to complete the construction of a new turning notch that will provide five more berths and 730,000-TEU (twenty-foot equivalent) additional capacity. Port Everglades is also building on-dock rail capabilities that will link directly to Florida East Coast Railway. FEC is working with both ports to modernize on-dock rail links that will provide easy transfer of container loads.
Additionally, FEC is developing land that it owns along its rail line adjacent to Miami International Airport. It plans to break ground later this year at the site on a transload logistics center, where full container loads can be brought from the ports and broken down into less-than-container loads. The center will also be able to perform value-added services as well as receive air shipments from the nearby airport.
All of these infrastructure changes are designed to increase the flow of goods heading north. The railroad and ports are promoting the speed-to-market that can be achieved by bringing goods though a Florida port and loading them onto the FEC heading north. Atlanta and Charlotte can be reached easily in two days, and Nashville and Memphis are three days away. Because rail shipments travel faster than water, goods can arrive at destinations in these cities before they can even be unloaded at other East Coast ports.More articles by David Maloney
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