Main East and Gulf Coasts Port Infrastructure Developments Associated with the Expansion of the Panama Canal

PortChannel ClearanceRecent Port DevelopmentsRecent Intermodal Projects
MontrealDredging to keep the navigation channel at 11.3 meters Termont Terminal (Viau) opened in 2016.
Contrecoeur port project (first phase to be completed in 2024)
QuebecQuebec Container terminal project Laurentia (new post-Panamax terminal). HPH committed in 2019 for terminal development. No specific timeline.Connectors with CN intermodal network
HalifaxExpansion / relocation project to Dartmouth. No specific timeline.
Nova ScotiaTwo mega transshipment port projects proposed; Melford and Sydney. No specific timeline.
BostonPlans to dredge the channel depth from 40 to 48 feet under study (no specific timeline).  
New YorkHarbor channels dredged to 50 feet (completed in 2014). Clearance improvement of the Bayonne Bridge (completed in 2019).Expansion of Global Terminal completed in 2014. Delivery of 5 super-post Panamax cranes in 2015.ExpressRail improvements (South Hudson Intermodal Facility). Crescent Corridor (CSX).
PhiladelphiaDredging of the Delaware River channel from 40 to 45 feet underway (completed in 2019).Development of South Terminal, a new container terminal (no specific timeline) 
BaltimoreNo plans (currently at 50 feet since 2012). Plans to dredge several berths to 50 feet (no timeline specified).4 super-post Panamax cranes installed in 2013 at Seagirt Marine Terminal.National Gateway Project (CSX).
Hampton RoadsAuthorization to dredge from the current draft of 50 feet to 55 feet (no specific timeline).Virginia International Gateway expansion, doubling capacity (completed in 2019).
Craney Island Eastward Expansion project (first phase to open by 2025).
National Gateway Project (CSX). Heartland Corridor (NS).
Wilmington, NCPlans to dredge the port channel from 42 to 44 feet (to start in 2020). National Gateway Project (CSX).
CharlestonPlans to dredge the port channel from 45 to 52 feet (to be completed in 2020). South Carolina Inland Port (NS) (opened in 2013).
Palmetto Railways Intermodal Container Transfer Facility (ICTF).
SavannahDredging the port channel from 42 to 47 feet under way (to be completed in 2022).Construction of a new terminal gate (completed in 2016). 8 super-post Panamax cranes to be purchased. 
JacksonvillePlans to dredge from the current draft of 40 feet to 47 feet (stated in 2018).New container facility at Dames Point opened in 2009.Dames Point Intermodal Container Transfer Facility (CSX) (completed in 2015).
EvergladesPlans to dredge from the current draft of 42 feet to 48 feet. (expected to begin in 2019).Plans to purchase 5 post Panamax cranes between 2019 and 2034.Intermodal Container Transfer Facility (CSX) (completed in 2014).
MiamiHarbor channel dredged from 42 to 50 feet (completed in 2014).7 super-post Panamax cranes installed in 2013.PortMiami tunnel (completed in 2014). PortMiami-Florida East Coast (FEC) Railway connection (completed in 2014).
MobilePlans to dredge harbor channel from 45 to 50 feet (no timeline specified). Intermodal rail terminal adjacent to port planned (no specific timeline).
GulfportDredging to maintain to a draft of 36 feet.Expansion of the container terminal facility completed in 2018Inland Port Facility
New OrleansPlans to dredge harbor channel from 45 to 50 feet (no timeline specified).New Louisiana International Gulf Transfer Terminal (no specific timeline).Crescent Corridor (CSX).
HoustonPlans to dredge access channels to main container terminals from 40 to 45 feet (completed in 2016). Further widening started in 2019.Bayport and Barbour Cuts terminal improvements.Broadway Second Main Track project (completed in 2019)

Source: Web Sites and press releases of port authorities. Infrastructure projects were retained on the ground of their potential relation with the Panama Canal expansion. Rodrigue, J-P and T. Notteboom (2015) “The Legacy and Future of the Panama Canal: From Point of Transit to Transshipment Hub”, TR News 296.

When the expansion of the Panama Canal was announced in 2007, decision-makers at most American East and Gulf Coast ports started to consider their readiness to accommodate the expected larger ships. Many concluded that their current infrastructure capacity and performance would place them at a competitive disadvantage and that the West coast could regain some of the market shares they had lost because they could benefit from economies of scale. These assessments spurred the design, planning, and implementation of a variety of projects to improve port infrastructure, which fall into three main categories; channel clearance, port infrastructure, and hinterland access.

Channel Clearance

Channel and harbor clearance mostly involve dredging projects to accommodate larger ships with wider and deeper channels. Wherever possible, dredging aims to reach a reference depth of 50 feet (15.2 meters), matching the draft of NeoPanamax ships. Dredging is the infrastructure project most directly associated with the canal expansion because most East and Gulf Coast ports are Panamax ports and can accommodate drafts of approximately 42 feet (12.8 meters; Figure 14), allowing them to receive post-Panamax ships under specific conditions such as partially loaded ships or during high tide. There is thus an ongoing effort to dredge several key East and Gulf Coast ports to Post-Panamax standards and preferably to meet the NeoPanamax standard of about 48 feet (14.6 meters). Further, a new generation of wide bottom post-Panamax containerships is being introduced. They have fewer draft restrictions but are wider and thus require cranes that have a wider span.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is responsible for dredging port access channels. As a result, ports have engaged in intense competition and lobbying to secure the funding for dredging projects. Several of the largest port authorities were able to secure sufficient funding, but many have had to raise additional sums through local state support (most port authorities are owned by state governments). Nevertheless, many of the dredging projects have been delayed or with no specific timeline, reflecting the uncertainty of public funding and what economic benefits can be expected for committing to costly dredging projects.

Port Developments

The expected growth in cargo to be handled, as well as in container volumes per port call, has incited terminal improvement projects, including the purchase of new yard equipment, expansion of storage space, investment in information technologies, and improvements in gate operations. Several ports are pushing for full and partial automation as a strategy to handle the activity surges that are associated with larger containerships. Some piers were expanded and strengthened to accommodate the longer ships. Nevertheless, attributing port infrastructure projects to the Panama Canal expansion is not always straightforward. Many of the projects may be standard improvements or planned maintenance that would have occurred without the expansion.

Intermodal Developments

The North American rail transport system has a high level of geographical specialization with large rail carriers (Class 1) servicing substantial regional markets. Each carrier has its own facilities and thus its own markets along the segments it controls. Infrastructure improvements for hinterland access include better road and rail connections, as well as new or improved intermodal yards. The two Class 1 rail operators on the East Coast have launched the most salient rail corridor initiatives—the CSX National Gateway Project and Norfolk Southern’s Heartland Corridor project are direct improvements to the hinterland access of the East and Gulf Coast ports, offering more efficient double-stacking services and intermodal yards. These projects, however, represent market-servicing strategies that are justifiable without the Panama Canal expansion.

Nevertheless, the expansion has provided a context for presenting and justifying many of these infrastructure projects. A particular driver has been the setting on inland terminal facilities (inland ports) connected to a port terminal through a rail corridor. The expectations are that the expansion of the Panama Canal and its associated shipping costs reductions would increase the hinterland of East Coast ports. The first direct effect is it allows the East Coast rail system (NS and CSX) to increase the competitiveness along their networks. In this context, the demarcation line between hinterlands would approximately range north-south from Chicago to New Orleans, which corresponds to their network ownership. However, limited evidence is available so far concerning the impact of the expansion of the market areas of railways, mostly because their rate structure is confidential.