Transportation & Logistics
Monday | 30 January, 2023 | 1:23 pm


Written by By Corinna Petry

January 2023 - Transportation & Logistics: US Ports

So much time and effort is invested into transporting raw materials and finished products from place to place, and so much is needed to make it happen: functioning warehouses and terminals, deep shipping channels and ports, adequately paid dock workers, reliable links from road and rail to barge and ship, and monumental lifting capacity.

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The U.S. Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, part of a years-long effort to improve American railroads, highways, seaports, airports, electrification, digital access and more, is financing projects across the country. The projects in and around U.S. ports are neither uniform nor standard. They are primarily focused on getting commercial cargo moving more efficiently in the wake of COVID-related supply chain bottlenecks.

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     Port of Mount Pleasant, South Carolina

In late October, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced more than $703 million to fund 41 projects in 22 states and Puerto Rico that will improve port facilities through the Maritime Administration’s Port Infrastructure Development Program. The funding will benefit coastal seaports, Great Lakes and inland river ports, helping to improve supply chain reliability through increased capacity and resilience.

“So many of the goods we all count on, from appliances to furniture to clothes, move through our nation’s ports on their way to us,” U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg said Nov. 15. “Using funds from [the] Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, we’re awarding record levels of funding to improve our port infrastructure, strengthen our supply chains and help cut costs for American families.”

State, local and private funding comes into play, too, from Massachusetts to Ohio, Texas to California.


The Port of Cleveland recently won a $27.2 million federal grant to improve cargo handling efficiencies, modernize and expand its electric and stormwater infrastructure. “By enhancing our port operations and improving our infrastructure, this grant will help create quality local jobs while bolstering our region’s competitiveness on the global stage,” Port President and CEO William D. Friedman said.

The project will improve the port’s largest warehouse (Warehouse A), make electrification investments to prepare the port for a zero-emissions future, and build a training center to prepare students for jobs in the maritime industry.

This funding will have a significant regional economic impact, given that the Port of Cleveland is the first major U.S. port of call on the Great Lakes. For ships transiting the St. Lawrence Seaway System, Cleveland is a gateway to Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis and Chicago.

The Ports of Indiana-Jeffersonville completed infrastructure enhancement projects last year, mainly focused on rail-to-barge access. The projects included 4 additional miles of track to accommodate unit train delivery, along with two new rail loops connected to the waterfront intermodal facility. The railyard can accommodate 200 railcars at once. The new intermodal facility more than doubles the capacity of bulk commodities transferred from railcars or trucks to barges. A new conveyor belt can run more than 2,000 tons per hour or transfer one railcar to a barge in less than 3 minutes. There’s also a 3-acre transload facility that allows cargo to be transferred between trucks and railcars.

There is another form of added capacity on the water. The 639-foot-long M/V Mark W. Barker embarked on its maiden voyage last July from Interlake Steamship Co., Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, which is part of Fincantieri Bay Shipbuilding. The ship is Interlake’s first new build since 1981. The vessel was made from steel manufactured in Indiana from iron ore delivered by vessel from Minnesota, according to Mark W. Barker, Interlake’s president for whom the vessel was named. The ship transports cargoes ranging from steel coils to windmill components, an average of 25,000 tons per trip, which equals the carrying capacity of 250 railcars or 1,000 trucks. Its most frequent destinations are Sault Ste.- Marie, Detroit, Duluth and Cleveland.


For the Port of Brownsville, Texas, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers authorized deepening the port’s channel from 42 feet to 52 feet. The Brazos Island Harbor Channel Improvement Project could cost upward of $300 million. Construction began during December 2022. Deepening the port’s channel means bigger ships and more cargo. About $68 million will be provided under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA). The Brazos project was identified as part of the IIJA to strengthen port and waterway supply chains and climate resilience. Once complete, the Brownsville Ship Channel will be one of the deepest ship channels in the Gulf of Mexico.


      Houston Ship Channel dredging

The Port of Houston and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers launched a $1 billion project last summer to expand the Houston Ship Channel. Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works) Michael Connor said, “This project is important on many levels, including [by] improving the efficiency of our nation’s supply chains.” The project is expected to be finished in 2025.


     Port of Mobile, Alabama

The Massachusetts Port Authority is in the midst of an $850 million plan to upgrade the Port of Boston. The multi-year investment, made possible by the support of state, federal and local partners, is already paying dividends, with bigger ships, new services and connections to more global ports. By improving its infrastructure, the Port of Boston offers direct connectivity to China, Northern Europe, Southeast Asia including Vietnam and India, the Mediterranean, Middle East and Latin America.

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     Great Lakes freight carrier

Completed infrastructure projects at Boston include a 50-foot-deep berth to accommodate the new cranes and larger ships; three shipto- shore cranes to serve ships carrying up to 14,000 TEUs; and an expansion of the turning basin for larger vessels. Upcoming projects include terminal technologies designed to minimize wait times and enable the introduction of a truck appointment system.

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     U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dredging vessel, Memphis

“Despite the pandemic-related impact on oceangoing commerce, we have been very successful in obtaining funding to make major improvements and expand our capacity in the Port of Boston,” said U.S. Rep. Stephen Lynch. “These projects have effectively modernized our port infrastructure and expanded the economic viability of the entire New England region.”

Fifteen ship-to-shore cranes at Wando Welch Terminal efficiently work mega-container ships at the Port of Charleston, South Carolina. The 15th and final crane was installed in August 2022. With five cranes to a berth, the terminal can load and unload three 14,000-TEU vessels simultaneously. The ship-to-shore cranes have 155 feet of lift height and can service the biggest ships arriving along the East Coast. South Carolina Ports President and CEO Barbara Melvin said, “Our modern equipment provides smarter operations and more fluidity for the supply chain.”

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     The 639-foot-long M/V Mark V. Barker

The cranes are a part of the port system’s $500 million terminal modernization efforts. The port has given berth priority to vessels taking out more cargo, significantly improved rail dray dwell times to about 36 hours, hired more than 150 people in operations to handle the influx of cargo, and launched a port-owned and -operated chassis pool.

Port Tampa Bay is expanding and diversifying a berth at its fast-growing satellite, Port Redwing. Port tenants and customers, including Tampa Tank/Florida Structural Steel, will directly benefit from the project. The project serves West and Central Florida’s non-containerized industries, including steel, construction materials and project cargo. This berth addition will eliminate nearly 3 million truck miles annually and reduce wear and tear to local roads, cut emissions, boost vehicle safety and improve truck operations.

The Port of Long Beach, California, expanded rail capacity last spring to effectively move goods and shift more cargo to trains.

The double-track access from Pier G to Pier J added a second rail line that enables four terminals in the port’s South Basin area to simultaneously handle arriving and departing trains. This project streamlines operations and reduces truck trips as the port sees growth in cargo. “Our investments in on-dock rail will help the port remain globally competitive and environmentally sustainable well into the future,” said Port Executive Director Mario Cordero.

Back in the Gulf of Mexico, the Army Corps of Engineers completed two phases last year in an effort to deepen the Mississippi River Ship Channel, which provides a maximum draft for vessels to the Port of New Orleans at 50 feet. The Ship Channel has been deepened for the first 200 miles of the channel, but more work is required to open the deeper draft north of the Huey P. Long Bridge.

The channel’s deepening is a “transformational project that will solidify Louisiana’s status as a global anchor for trade,” said Gov. John Bel Edwards.

The Mississippi River Ship Channel is home to four of America’s top 15 ports by annual tonnage, moving more than 500 million tons of cargo each year. Th e M/V Capri, loaded with a record 134,706 metric tons of coal, was the first vessel to transit the Ship Channel with a draft of 50 feet upon departure in August 2022.

The White House’s commitment to modernizing America’s infrastructure “has resulted in an unprecedented investment in all segments of our port infrastructure to enable us to move goods more quickly, strengthen supply chain resiliency, and reduce the climate impacts of port operations themselves,” the U.S. DOT’s Maritime Administrator, Ann Phillips, said in November. -MM


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