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.
busy Oakland port, November 2014
21 Feb 2015
The tentative coastwide contract agreement that was reached Friday evening by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the Pacific Maritime Association, while most welcome, is just the beginning of a long process West Coast ports must endure to recover from the backlog of containers and vessels that have overwhelmed their operations the past four months, and to restore their reputation among shippers.
19 Feb 2015
U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker has entered negotiations between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the Pacific Maritime Association, reflecting a ratcheting up of Obama administration pressure on both sides to reach a deal in order to end crippling West Coast port congestion.
12 Feb 2015
What is the true impact of the West Coast labor showdown on U.S. agricultural exports? There is controversy over the data.
Port of Portland, Oregon
10 Feb 2015
Hanjin Shipping Co. said Wednesday in Asia that it was withdrawing direct service to the Port of Portland, Oregon, after a 2 1/2-year-old dispute with longshoremen that severely undermined productivity.
09 Feb 2015
Loaded imports through the Los Angeles-Long Beach port complex fell by a quarter last month compared to the same period a year ago, reflecting the severity of pain congestion has inflicted on the largest container gateway in the Americas.


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.

More Commentary