But as negotiations continue, major ports aren’t waiting to be approved for federal funding. They’re already engaged in, and/or are planning projects to improve their infrastructures in order to become or remain capable of handling the largest ships bringing consumer goods to the U.S. from Asia.
Pacific Maritime Magazine surveyed most of the largest ports on the West Coast about their projects, and here’s what they said.
Port of Long Beach
In an interview with Pacific Maritime, Port Executive Director Mario Cordero touted two recently completed infrastructure projects that he said have already helped increase productivity and reduce port congestion.
“We are ready to complete the last phase of our mega-project, which I describe as the state-of-the-art container terminal, the Long Beach Container Terminal,” he said.
The 311-acre LBCT facility, which had already been two-thirds operational, is scheduled for grand opening this coming August, when the terminal is in full operation.
“This is an all-electric terminal at the tune of $1.5 billion, and the capability of that terminal will be to move as much as
3.5 million (containers annually),” Cordero said, adding that cranes at the terminal have the ability to lift two containers off a vessel at the same time.
“The other mega-project is what I call the bridge to everywhere, and that’s the replacement of the Gerald Desmond Bridge,” he said, referring to the $1.47 billion new cable-stayed bridge that includes six traffic lanes, a higher clearance to accommodate large cargo ships, and more efficient transition ramps and connectors to improve traffic flow.
Construction began in 2013 and was completed last year.
“It was inaugurated here in October of 2020, and it was very timely, because we’ve had a tremendous surge here at the San Pedro Bay complex,” Cordero said. “Interestingly enough, when that bridge opened, we were already experiencing a definite surge and have been since. But anybody who goes over that bridge — whether it be a commuter or a container freight truck — there is no congestion on that bridge. Had we not opened it up at that point in time, we probably would have had some issues on the old bridge.”
Where the old Desmond bridge, which was built in 1968, was named after a prominent former civic leader, the new bridge, called the Long Beach International Gateway, is a nod to its role in helping transport goods from the port to inland parts of California as well as the rest of the country.
“There are containers that traverse that bridge that end up in every congressional district in the mainland United States,” Cordero remarked.
He also said that even with two huge projects recently completed, the Port of Long Beach plans to continue to investing in its infrastructure.
“In this industry for the last several years there’s been a lot of talk about how large these (container) vessels are getting. The other dynamic that’s changed in this industry is that the trains are getting longer,” he said. “We’ve gone from 10,000-foot trains to what’s going to be commonplace, 16,000-foot trains. So as a result, we now moving forward with our Pier B rail enhancement facility.”
The $870 million Pier B project, which is currently in the design phase, is the centerpiece of the Port of Long Beach’s
$1 billion rail capital improvement program. When complete, it would shift more cargo to on-dock rail, where containers are taken to and from marine terminals by trains, significantly reducing truck trips throughout the region.
No cargo trucks would visit the facility; instead, smaller train segments would be brought to the facility and joined together into a full-sized train.
“This is going to be a game changer for the San Pedro Bay complex,” Cordero predicted.
The port expects to break ground in early 2023 on that project, Cordero said, with construction anticipated to last eight or nine years.
In addition to the Pier B rail enhancement facility, Long Beach has three other rail projects in the works, including the underway $25 million Pier G and J double track rail project to enhance on-dock abilities.
“In combination, the Port of Long Beach will have not only a state-of-the-art container terminal, we will have a state-of-the-art inner harbor rail facility,” Cordero remarked. “That’s going to be very important for us to do two things: eliminate congestion as a result of truck movement and second, it’s a better environmental footprint anytime you can move containers by rail as opposed to the urban setting of truck drayage.”
Port of Los Angeles
With the Port of LA being the busiest seaport in North America and the one with the largest amount of physical acreage, you might expect it to be engaged in a substantial number of ongoing infrastructure projects, and that’s definitely the case.
Among the current projects at the Port of LA is construction at the Everport Container Terminal to deepen berths and improve terminal facilities, which would allow the terminal operator to accommodate the larger next-generation vessels. This $65 million project aims to improve Berths 226-229, increasing berth depth from minus-45 to minus-53 feet, and improve Berths 230-232 to a minus-47 feet berth depth.
The project also involves building an additional 1.5 acres of backland and electrical improvements, as well as electrical infrastructure for three additional container cranes. The total project cost is $65 million. Construction began in September 2019 and is expected to be completed this year.
The port also has plans for a new marine oil platform at its Shell Oil Terminal. The primary goal of the proposed $44.8 million project is to comply with the Marine Oil Terminal Engineering and Maintenance Standards (MOTEMS) to protect public health, safety, and the environment. Work includes demolition of the timber wharves and construction and operation of a new MOTEMS-compliant wharf at Berth 168, with minor infrastructure improvements to connect the new loading platform to the existing landside pipelines and utilities.
The proposed project would also include a new 30-year lease. Construction is expected to start this year, with completion expected in 2023.
Additionally, the port’s Alameda Corridor Gap Closure Expansion, slated for a 2022 completion, would provide a second mainline track, eliminating a short gap in trackage between the West Basin area of the Port of Los Angeles and the Alameda Corridor rail line.
According to port officials, the new second mainline track would “significantly” reduce delays for trains servicing various terminals as well as other current and future customers. The project plans for construction of about 5,000 track feet of rail parallel to an existing track. Work includes relocation and protection of existing underground utilities, relocation of power poles, utility meters, and perimeter fencing. The project budget is currently $17.29 million. Construction is expected to begin this year.
These projects are in addition to two planned railyard projects still in the planning phases. One, an expansion of the existing railyard at Berths 302-305, is in design to add five new tracks equating to about 12,000 linear feet. The project would increase the capacity of the existing overall on-dock railyard by about 10%. Estimated total project cost is $40.5 million.
The other project is the Pier 400 Corridor Storage Tracks Expansion. The project would expand the existing Pier 400 rail storage yard in order to accommodate future rail volumes on the massive Terminal Island facility. The project scope includes a concrete rail bridge with lighting, six new railroad storage tracks, an asphalt access roadway, new crossovers and switches, as well as modifications to the existing compressed air system of the Pier 400 Rail Storage Yard and Bridge.
The project is currently budgeted at $49.8 million and was awarded about $21.6 million of California Trade Corridor Enhancement Program (TCEP) federal funding by the State of California. Construction is expected to start this year.
Port of Tacoma
John Wolfe, CEO of the Northwest Seaport Alliance, the body that manages the container, breakbulk, auto and some bulk terminals at the Tacoma and Seattle seaports, told Pacific Maritime that the Port of Tacoma has been redeveloping its Husky terminal, an endeavor that began in July 2019.
“It was about a $250 million capital investment to upgrade the wharf and make improvements to the marine yard, gate complex and staging area for the truck traffic coming in and out of that facility,” he explained. “And in addition, we purchased eight new super post-Panamax cranes, that are in operation there today.”
The driving force behind the investment was the ongoing upgrade of ocean carriers to larger sizes, and wanting to make sure that port facilities could handle the larger vessels now calling the port, he said, adding that today, the terminal is now capable of handling two ultra-large container vessels simultaneously.
“With the growth of container cargo that we’re handling today, it’s clear to us that we need to continue to expand,”
He added that the NWSA is in the midst of planning a deepening project for both the Tacoma and Seattle harbors.
“We’re fortunate to have natural deep water in Puget Sound at both of our harbors, at approximately 51 feet of water depth, yet with these larger vessels that our now calling our gateway, we recognize that we need to look to deepen the waterways, and so we intend to take the water depth in our channels and berthing areas down to 57 feet.”
The projects are still in the design and approval phases, he said.
The NWSA also has some roadway projects that it is partnering with local and state governments on freight corridor projects like road connectors and highway systems to improve the flow and velocity of container cargo moving in and out of terminals via truck.
Regarding rail infrastructure, Wolfe said that at the Tacoma harbor, the port owns a good portion of the rail infrastructure, along with short line provider Tacoma Rail, and that some projects are being contemplated, though he declined to go into detail.
He also said that the NWSA is involved in investments in environmental programs that help the Tacoma and Seattle ports grow in an environmentally responsible manner, such as mitigation projects, stormwater system upgrades and terminal electrification.
“As we grow, we’re reducing the negative environmental impacts on the community and those that we serve,” he stated.
“In all, I would say, looking out over the next 10 years, I would say between our investments, leaning on the state and federal grant funds that are made available, and private sector investments, we can image collectively we will invest over a billion dollars in infrastructure,” Wolfe remarked.
“We depend heavily on the support of the federal government to assist us with these critical investments,” he said. “I would say that is a great return on investment in the U.S. economy because a significant investment of the U.S. economy is driven by trade, and ports play such a significant role in promoting trade.”
Port of Seattle
The biggest ongoing project at the Port of Seattle is a plan to modernize its Terminal 5 so that the largest containerships now in existence can more easily dock at the terminal. The $300 million project, which was approved in February, 2019, includes dock strengthening and utility upgrades in order to accommodate the larger, heavier cranes with a longer reach that are required to load and unload ultra-large container vessels.
“In Seattle, we’re in the middle of a redevelopment project at Terminal 5, a $340 million investment by the Seaport Alliance, combined with another $100-plus million by the terminal operator for cranes and yard equipment,” Wolfe explained. “We intend to bring Phase 1 of that terminal onboard in January of 2022, and then complete Phase 2 of that project about a year after that – the first quarter of 2023. When we bring that facility onboard, it will also be able to handle the largest vessels that will be calling our gateway.”
Container vessels in the 14,000-TEU size regularly call at terminals in the north and South harbors; modernization of Terminal 5 will allow for vessels that can carry up to 18,000 TEUs.
“It’s a similar project to the one we just completed in Tacoma at Husky Terminal,” Wolfe explained. “It’s got a beautiful on-dock intermodal rail yard, similar to the on-dock rail that we have at our Tacoma facilities, and that’s really important for us, because much of the cargo that’s moving through our gateway is loaded onto rail and is moving to the upper Midwest, so we need to have an efficient rail solution to handle that cargo.”
Port of Oakland
Currently, Northern California’s busiest port is planning or already engaged in a number of projects aimed at improving cargo traffic flow. Among them is Freight Intelligent Transportation Systems (FITS), part of the GoPort Program, which is a collaboration between the Port of Oakland and city and county governmental agencies for strategic roadway infrastructure improvements at the port.
“The FITS program will benefit shippers by improving coordination with the marine terminals and the trucking community,” Port of Oakland Maritime Director Bryan Brandes explained.
FITS, a $32 million program, entails a suite of 15 demonstration technology projects along or near arterial roadways that lead in and out of the port. The improvements — which include fiber and Wi-Fi upgrades, installing changeable message signs and the buildout of an emergency operations and traffic management center — are intended to improve truck traffic flow, increase the efficiency of operations/goods movement, and enhance the safety and incident response capabilities throughout the port.
Construction for FITS began in February 2020 and is scheduled to finish by the end of 2021, followed by a 12-month system testing period. Operations and maintenance are expected to start in summer 2022.
Oakland Harbor’s inner and outer turning basins were last designed and constructed for a container vessel 1,139 feet in length equating to 6,500 TEUs. However, the port has in recent times received an ultra-large vessel with a capacity to carry the equivalent of more than 19,000 TEUs.
And with this being the case, a feasibility study began in July 2020 to review modifications at both of the port’s turning basin locations to efficiently handle ultra-large container vessels that are expected to become more frequent callers in the harbor in coming years. The study is scheduled to end mid-2023, and is to include a federal and state environmental review of a potential project to widen the Oakland Harbor’s turning basins.
Another improvement is a five-year project to replace existing electrical substations within the port’s footprint in order to meet future demand. The improved electrical power would service new, larger cranes that are coming into operation at the port, plus enhance shore power that supplies zero emissions energy to vessels that are plugged in at berth.
The improvements would also allow for a sufficient and reliable source of clean energy to support more plugs for refrigerated cargo, as port staff has said that it expects more temperature sensitive export cargo from California and the Midwest coming through Oakland over the next few years.
The above improvements would be on top of three other major infrastructure projects that Oakland has completed in the past few years, within the last few years: the $67 million buildout of the TraPac Marine terminal, in which the terminal’s size was doubled from 66 to 123 acres and was completed in early 2019; Cool Port Oakland, an advanced food storage and transportation hub opened by Lineage Logistics and Dreisbach Enterprises in November 2018 and consists in part of a 280,000-square-foot depot with 90 truck dock doors; and CenterPoint Landing, a $52 million transloading logistics hub project that anchors a planned 180-acre logistics campus.
Port of Vancouver, BC
The Port of Vancouver, which is Canada’s largest seaport, includes more than 16,000 hectares of water, more than 1,500 hectares of land, and hundreds of kilometers of shoreline. At the port, there are currently two major infrastructure developments in the works, one of which is the Centerm Expansion Project, which consists of improvements to the existing Centerm container terminal in the port’s South Shore Trade Area. Centerm is short for Centennial Terminals, a major dock on Vancouver’s east side.
The plan includes the construction of new port land through infill to expand the terminal footprint by 15%; reconfiguration of the Centerm container terminal; creation of a new overpass; and removal of a different overpass.
Port officials have said that the changes would not only help increase capacity at Centerm to support Canada’s growing trade demand for containerized goods shipments, but also reduce travel delays for port users and businesses via the new overpass, and lessen port-related traffic on local roads.
The project has been under construction since July 2019, with completion projected for 2022.
The port’s other big infrastructure investment is a proposed $3.5 billion marine terminal known as the Roberts Bank Terminal 2 (RTB2) Project. It involves the construction of a new three-berth marine container terminal that would be situated about 5.5 kilometers (3.42 miles) offshore at Roberts Bank in Delta, British Columbia.
The project is currently undergoing a federal environmental assessment by an independent review panel, and construction is subject to regulatory approvals and permits, market conditions and a final investment decision. If ultimately approved, the port authority estimates construction would take about five-and-a-half years.
If and when it receives the necessary approvals, construction of RTB2 could begin in 2024, according to the Vancouver Port Authority, and would take about six years to complete.