Dredging of Baltimore harbor, expansion seen as boon to economy


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The Port of Baltimore, despite being the 11th busiest port in the country, has been somewhat overshadowed for years by some of its more visible competitors along the East Coast.

Now port officials say that with the surge in imported cargo and tens of millions of dollars of infrastructure upgrades underway or on the drawing board, the sprawling Chesapeake Bay facility will grow rapidly. over the next few years.

“It’s a huge engine of our economy. It’s so important for jobs, and that’s why we’ve been investing from day one to make the port more productive and competitive, ”Maryland Governor Larry Hogan said on March 24.

He spoke after spending 30 minutes on a dredging platform that deepens portions of the berth to 50 feet, which will allow two of the larger Neopanamax vessels to operate in port simultaneously.

“It’s a major driver of our Maryland economy,” he said.

The Maryland Port Authority and a private contractor that leases the Seagirt marine terminal, Ports America Chesapeake, are spending more than $ 160 million on terminal upgrades, including installing additional cranes this summer to handle the larger vessels.

Upgrades are also underway at the other four terminals in the port, which are managed by the port authority and other terminal operators.

Several years ago, the Army Corps of Engineers dredged the Chesapeake Bay shipping channel and paid for the project, but the dredging of the berth is the responsibility of the local port operator.


“This ship that you see right there would not pass through the Panama Canal until 2016,” said William Doyle, executive director of the Maryland Port Authority, pointing to the 1,200-foot Gustav Maersk, which was underway. unloading as Hogan and other officials toured the dredging platform. “What you need is 50 feet… so the ship can come in and unload. This ship [the Gustav Maersk] is twice the size of 2016, and right now we can report three times the size of 2016, and it’s directly related to dredging. “

IHS Markit transport economist Paul Bingham told Transport Topics it’s not just the depth of the canal that impacts a port’s capacity. The facility should have appropriately sized cranes that can access the top of and through a ship. With the expansion underway, Baltimore consolidates its position as the leading port to accommodate larger ships.

“It’s a major expansion of capacity,” he said. “All they had to do was widen the depth of that position, and it’s a very effective way to add capacity.”

Baltimore lags other East Coast ports in terms of container volume, averaging over 67,000 20-foot equivalent units over the past 12 months. However, the port ranks first in the country for rolling cargo, especially agricultural equipment, such as combines, tractors, hay balers, excavators and backhoes.

Most of the major ports on the East Coast handle over 200,000 TCUs per month.

The port also has several other advantages that its leadership claims when seeking new business. The port is about 2 miles from Interstate 95, with several ramps that make it easier for trucks to get in and out. The location of Port Baltimore, the furthest inland of any East Coast port, saves drivers heading to the Midwest, South, and Northeast at least an hour. This location was a critical factor in a developer’s decision to buy and now transform the former Bethlehem steel plant into a 3,300-acre global logistics facility, Tradepoint Atlantic, which is now partially open and adjacent to the port.

Industry representatives say the port’s most significant improvement will begin this summer. Renovations are expected to begin on the 126-year-old, 1.7-mile Howard Street tunnel to accommodate double-stack CSX intermodal containers.

The current tunnel clearance is 18 inches too short to handle the larger boxes, and workers will lower the track to create additional space. Along with the reconstruction of the tunnel, work will be carried out on 22 bridges between Baltimore and Philadelphia to accommodate larger rail containers.

Financing of the Howard Street tunnel project

• Maryland $ 202.5 million

• INFRA grant of $ 125 million

• $ 113 million from CSX

• Pennsylvania $ 22.5 million

• $ 3 million in funding for the federal highways formula

• Total estimated cost: $ 466 million

“This is something I spoke about first when I ran for governor in 2014,” Hogan said. “It is the most important economic development project Maryland has ever seen.”

Mr Bingham, of IHS Markit, said he believed the Port of Baltimore was set to experience impressive growth in the next few years.

“In Maryland, they’ve proven that once they think about it, they’ll grow up,” he said. “They won’t replace the Port of New York and New Jersey, but they don’t need them. They can increase their share of containers, but they don’t really have to be No. 1 in the country. They will have a lot of work.

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