With the expansion of the Panama Canal, much-larger ships will now call on the eastern ports of the United States – and the Port of New York and New Jersey is ready for them.
The port has been planning for this day for a long time and has made significant investment to prepare for the canal's expansion. "The Port Authority has committed $6 billion in the past decade and has committed another $28 billion for the next decade on transportation infrastructure improvements within the region," explains Bethann Rooney, assistant director - strategy and innovation at the Port Authority. "Not only are we working on the raising of the Bayonne Bridge, but we have just completed the 50-foot channel deepening project. We now have three and soonto- be four on-dock rail facilities, and major roadway capacity improvement and enhancement projects."
That Bayonne Bridge project she mentions is a massive engineering marvel and one of the largest ever undertaken in the region. The $1.3 billion project involves building a new roadway 65 feet above the original road surface. The tricky part is that the construction is taking place while commuters, trucks, and others are using the bridge on a daily basis. Once completed, the original roadway will be removed so that taller ships as large as 18,000 TEUs can easily pass below.
In addition to the investments made by the Port Authority, the six terminal operators within the port have made major investments of their own. "Over $2 billion has been spent in the past decade on infrastructure improvements to the terminals, gate operating systems, and terminal operating systems and on state-of-the-art container handling equipment," says Rooney. "That will make our port more efficient and more productive long into the future. They've also committed $1 billion for the next decade to continue those infrastructure and efficiency improvements."
SPEED TO A CRITICAL MARKET
With larger ships now calling on the East Coast, many vessel operators may limit the number of ports they visit. It's important to be that "port of choice." Already, the Port of New York and New Jersey is the first port of call for 75 percent of the services calling on the East Coast.
The main reason carriers and their shipper customers select this region first is that the consumer market surrounding the Port of New York and New Jersey is the largest and most affluent in the nation. The port has the capability of reaching 23 million local consumers within a day's drive. Port improvements have sped truck access, resulting in faster turns and improved access to major highways.
The port's location on the Eastern Seaboard also provides access to another 100 million consumers within 36 hours. Key to this extensive reach is the port's massive on-dock rail connections. These rail facilities are geared for growth, as they have the capacity to handle three times their current volume. The facilities offer speedy connections to three Class One railroads – CSX, Norfolk Southern, and CP Rail. This provides fast reach to some 50 key inland destinations, including Chicago, Columbus, Detroit, Cleveland, and Kansas City.
In addition to the major infrastructure investments, the port also has a highly skilled workforce and a history of labor peace.
Is the Port of New York and New Jersey ready for the big ships? Rooney emphatically exclaims, "Absolutely. Bring it on."