The busiest ports in the United States have been on the West Coast for decades due to their proximity to Asia, the manufacturing hub of the world. With the expansion of the Panama Canal in June 2016, the U.S. East Coast now has access to larger vessels and the ability to compete with their West Coast peers.
The largest port on the U.S. East Coast is the Port of New York and New Jersey, which handled more than 7 million TEUs in 2018 and ranked third in the nation behind the Port of Los Angeles and the Port of Long Beach.
The chart below illustrates how much container volumes grew at the nation’s top five busiest ports between 2017 and 2018. Of these ports, the Port of Savannah saw the highest growth, while the Port of Los Angeles experienced the slowest growth. With the exception of Long Beach, U.S. West Coast ports illustrated in the chart saw slower year-over-year container volumes growth in 2018 than the East Coast ports.
While the Port of New York and New Jersey can enjoy the growth benefits of agglomeration due to its tens of millions of local consumers, smaller ports on the U.S. East Coast must leverage other advantages in order to compete on a national scale.
Savannah, for example, only had a metropolitan population of 387,543 in 2017. What it lacks in size is made up for in efficiency.
David Porter, regional sales manager of trade and development at the Georgia Ports Authority (GPA), said that Savannah is the “fastest growing and most efficient port in the United States.”
“We do 10,000 to 12,000 trucks per day. We run as many trucks in our port in 12 hours as Shanghai does in 24 hours. We’re very efficient,” he said.
GPA has an ambitious growth plan to boost capacity in Savannah by more than 8 million TEUs by 2028. The Port of Savannah plans to achieve this growth by taking capacity away from the West Coast by providing cheaper drayage and rail rates when servicing Midwest cities, such as Chicago and Dallas.
The Port of Savannah has raised $2 billion for infrastructure investments in the next decade and has the political support of both senators from Georgia as well as the Trump administration, which will help with access to state and federal funds.
Meanwhile, the Port of Jacksonville is another quickly growing port along the U.S. East Coast. It is the largest container port in Florida and handled 1.27 million TEUs in 2018.
On Monday, the Jacksonville Port Authority signed a deal with SSA Marine for the terminal operator to expand its operations at Blount Island through the creation of a $239.7 million container terminal.
“The facility, SSA Jacksonville International Gateway Terminal, is an expansion of SSA Marine’s current leasehold at Blount Island and will offer deepwater berthing space to accommodate the larger containerships calling JAXPORT from Asia more fully loaded,” according to a Jacksonville Port Authority press release. “SSA Marine will expand to approximately 80 acres of terminal operating space, with the option to grow up to 120 acres as space becomes available.”
The port authority also said, “The facility will offer a vessel turning basin and deepwater access of 47 feet upon completion of the Jacksonville Harbor deepening project, which is ahead of schedule and expected to be complete in 2023, based on continued funding from all partners.”
The chart below was built using the Bluewater Reporting Terminal Analysis tool and shows current container volumes deployed through the Port of Jacksonville’s three cargo terminals.
The tool shows that services calling SSA Marine’s Blount Island Marine Terminal have a total combined deployed capacity of 206,334 TEUs, while services calling the Dames Point Terminal, which is operated by TraPac, have a total combined deployed capacity of 245,807 TEUs.
Additionally, services calling Tallyrand Marine Terminal have a total combined deployed capacity of 10,928 TEUs. This illustrates that 53 percent of container volumes currently deployed through the port are deployed through the Dames Point Terminal, followed by 45 percent through the Blount Island Marine Terminal and 2 percent through the Tallyrand Marine Terminal.
Similarly to the Port of Savannah, Jacksonville has much cheaper drayage and rail rates than the West Coast, giving it a competitive advantage. The Port of Jacksonville also has a business-friendly environment, with Logistics Management magazine ranking it as the easiest port to do business with in the southern United States.
In the future, growth at U.S. East Coast ports will likely continue to surpass growth at U.S. West Coast ports and allow ports like New York, Savannah and Jacksonville to become even more competitive with their transcontinental rivals.