We are entering a new, Big Ship era for the port industry. Gone are the days when growth was just a matter of geography. Key to a port’s competitiveness will be its ability to accommodate the latest generation of large container ships being launched by the world’s shipyards.
The larger container ships operate more cost effectively, and they’re greener and more sustainable. In September, the Port of Long Beach welcomed the MSC Beatrice. At 14,000-TEU capacity, it was the largest container cargo ship ever to at a North American port. At most, only a handful of ports in the continent are ready for these behemoths.
Getting ready for the coming Big Ships requires major investments in deeper waterways, taller bridges, technologically advanced container terminals, intermodal rail connections and a vast network of warehouses and distribution centers.
Financing these projects is a big challenge. The Panama Canal expansion, creating a deeper, wide canal, comes with a more than $5 billion price tag. Accommodating Big Ships is requiring the Port of Long Beach to invest $1.2 billion in its Middle Harbor terminal redevelopment project. We are also constructing a $1 billion replacement for the aging Gerald Desmond Bridge, which handles 15 percent of the nation’s container imports. The replacement bridge will feature a 200-foot-high roadway span to allow passage of larger ships. Ports throughout the nation are planning similar projects.
Port infrastructure improvements also serve us well for another growing trend, exports. President Obama has made it clear that boosting U.S. exports is an economic imperative for our nation. About a quarter of all containers we handle are empty and headed to Asia. We expect more to be filled with goods in the future. And more of those containers will be carried on Big Ships.
Ports need to be Big Ship and export ready.