Congress must accelerate funding for improvements as Panama Canal expansion nears completion
The expansion of the Panama Canal is expected to significantly increase vessel numbers and sizes calling at US east coast ports, but Paul Anderson, CEO of Florida’s Jacksonville Port Authority (Jaxport), has warned that ports are not ready.
US ports will not be able to accommodate all the ships wanting to call on the east coast – small, medium and post-panamax, Anderson told the US Maritime Administration.
He believes the primary issue is gridlock in Congress, which is delaying investments to improve US seaport infrastructure.
If the necessary port upgrades don’t happen, Anderson said, transhipment from off-shore locations such as the Bahamas will threaten US port business, add costs to US imports and slow down transit times.
Anderson told IFW that Jaxport was waiting on federal funding of up to $600 million to continue a dredging project, and the delay was limiting productivity of the port’s new TraPac Container Terminal, its first to win a direct service to Asia.
Nancy Rubin, Director of Communications for Jaxport, said: “TraPac is operating just under 100,000 containers a year. After the Panama Canal expansion, we should be seeing at least triple that by 2015.”
“And operating at full capacity, of about 800,000 containers, economists estimate about a billion-dollar-a-year impact from the TraPac terminal. So we are talking loss of significant positive economic activity without federal commitment,” she added.
In addition, Korean shipping line Hanjin has put building a new $200 million east coast hub on hold, pending the federal funding for Jaxport. The Hanjin project would add another $1 billion a year to the region’s economy.
“Together, these two new terminals would triple our capacity to handle containers, triple the economic impact annually and triple the employment opportunities in all related industries,” Rubin said.