West Coast Ports

Productivity is the name of the game for West Coast ports leading up to the expansion of the Panama Canal in 2015. Unlike many of the ports on the East and Gulf coasts that are deepening their harbors and enlarging their marine terminals to prepare for the mega-ships that will begin transiting the canal in 2015, the major West Coast gateways already have 50-foot harbors and terminals of 100 to more than 400 acres in size.

In order to prevent an erosion of market share to East Coast ports, the Seattle-Tacoma, Oakland and Los Angeles-Long Beach gateways must improve their efficiency in unloading vessels, moving containers through the yards and expediting the departure of containers by truck and intermodal rail.

The 25 to 26 container moves per crane per hour that mark West Coast port operations must be increased to at least 30 moves per hour. Terminal operators are exploring options for automating yard, gate and on-dock rail operations. The busiest terminals will invest in costly equipment such as dual-hoist cranes, automated guided vehicles and automated stacking cranes. The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, which together handle about 40 percent of U.S. imports from Asia, will spend more than $7 billion in the coming decade on larger, more efficient terminals and improved connectivity to rail and highway networks.

Offering a transit time advantage of a week to 10 days to the U.S. interior, and the potential for reducing per-slot vessel costs by hundreds of dollars with the arrival of vessels having a capacity of 13,000-TEU capacity, West Coast ports want to beat the canal by even further expanding their 70 percent market share of U.S. imports from Asia.


Special Coverage

With the 2008-09 economic recession and the labor problems of 2014-15 behind them, West Coast ports see 2016 as the year they will return to their normal annual growth trend of about 5 percent.

News & Analysis

14 Oct 2016
Hanjin Shipping’s failure put a noticeable dent in US import volumes.
27 Apr 2015
International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 10 in the Bay area will use its monthly stop-work meeting on Friday to idle the ports of Oakland and San Francisco to protest recent police killings of African-Americans.
23 Apr 2015
Cargo interests had much to complain about at a listening session convened Wednesday by Los Angeles and Long Beach port leaders. They suffered through four punishing months of labor slowdowns at West Coast ports, but their biggest concerns centered on problems that were present even before the coastwide contract negotiations began last May — cost and reliability.
21 Apr 2015
The Port of Portland, Oregon, is doing its best to keep containerized cargo moving up and down the Columbia River, even if it means encouraging freight to move to Seattle and Tacoma until the port can attract new liner services.
20 Apr 2015
Container volumes at the Seattle-Tacoma gateway in March surged by 21 percent compared to March 2014, demonstrating that the Pacific Northwest ports are quickly recovering from the port congestion that accompanied four months of work slowdowns.
Portland cranes
17 Apr 2015
The most damaging aspect of the exodus of two major container lines from the Port of Portland, Oregon, last month was the loss of more than 650 trade and transportation jobs in Oregon, the port’s executive director says.


An early contract extension at West Coast ports would present an opportunity to restore shipper trust and regain cargo they have diverted to the East and Gulf coasts.