On Monday, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey issued a call for proposals to develop a three-decade master plan for expansion of its terminals and cargo volumes, to engage stakeholders and to create a blueprint for growth.
The Port Authority is the parent agency for the Port of NY & NJ, the landowner for marine terminals at Port Newark, Port Elizabeth, Port Jersey, Howland Hook and two additional facilities in Brooklyn. Its combined traffic came to 6.4 million TEU in 2015, putting it in third place behind both of the twin West Coast ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles, which handled a combined 15.4 million TEU in 2015 (the two are immediately adjacent, sharing the waterfront on and around LA's Terminal Island).
Port of NY & NJ aspires to first place, said Molly Campbell, the Port Authority's head of trade, speaking to the Wall Street Journal. Its vision is to become the busiest import/export facility in the U.S.
That will require solving shoreside infrastructure problems like unpredictable drayage traffic jams. Additionally, most port facilities at its terminals are only open about 50 hours per week, unlike the nearly-24/7 operations at other American ports.
The International Longshore Union (ILU) has resisted calls to increase hours of operation, and a spokesman told the Journal that hours are part of contractual negotiations between the union and terminal operators – beyond the Port Authority's purview.
The largest container vessels cannot presently call at its largest facilities, which suffer from an air draft restriction imposed by the Bayonne Bridge, with a clearance of 150 feet. Contractors are presently working on raising the roadway further up the span's arch to bring maximum air draft to 215 feet – sufficient to handle New Panamax vessels – and the improved clearance is expected for late 2017, with full completion in mid-2019.
Additionally, the approach channels to its terminals have been deepened to 50 feet, in line with the 13,000 TEU New Panamax vessel dimensions.
But Campbell suggested that Panama Canal expansion traffic is not the port's target. Instead, it intends to seek new business from across the Atlantic and the Indian Ocean. “The manufacturing centers have shifted. Our growth is coming from Southeast Asian countries like Malaysia, Indonesia, and from India,” she said.
Comparable routes through the Suez Canal to the Mediterranean and Northern Europe have increasingly seen the deployment of ultra large container vessels to reduce slot costs; the port's infrastructure is not designed to accommodate vessels of this class, like the CMA CGM Benjamin Franklin, which has a draft of 53 feet and an air draft of 233 feet. The 18,000 TEU Franklin recently became the largest container ship to call in the U.S. with a visit to the Port of Los Angeles, and she will continue delivering containers there on a regular trans-Pacific run.
Despite present size restrictions, the port saw container volumes increase by 10 percent last year. Recent labor problems at West Coast terminals led East Asian shippers to send their goods to East Coast ports last year, cutting into growth at LA & Long Beach, and contributing to growth at Port Elizabeth. Campbell says that Port of NY & NJ is well positioned to improve on last year's gains, and to narrow the gap with its West Coast competitors.