With the opening of the expanded Panama Canal an expected reality late in June, looking ahead became that much more complex for some of the North American West Coast ports.

Some, like the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach began their gaze Panama way many years ago and already have an answer — they are ‘big ship ready’ with deeper shipping channels, and are all but saying ‘bring it on’ to the challenge of the Panama Canal Expansion project.

Already the Ports of Los Angeles, Long Beach, Oakland and the Northwest Seaport Alliance of Seattle and Tacoma ports have successfully handled the largest container vessel ever to call in North America.

The Port of Vancouver, Canada’s largest and busiest, also claims to be big ship ready, but its Vice President of Infrastructure, Cliff Stewart, says the real challenge ahead is balancing rail traffic to cope with one or two big ships a week rather than the traditional five or six smaller ones.

The canal expansion is not seen as a ‘game changer’ at the Port of Long Beach, either says Chief Commercial Officer, Noel Hacegaba. “The game changer is ocean carriers consolidating, seeking efficiencies and most importantly, relying on bigger ships to move cargo.”

It’s all about the Port of Long Beach “value proposition,” says Hacegaba. “Simply put, we can get a typical shipment from East Asia to Chicago as many as 11 days sooner than it can be sent through the Panama Canal. Time is money, and here, it translates into literally millions of dollars saved annually for our customers. And geography doesn’t change.”

Phillip Sanfield, Port of Los Angeles Director of Media Relations, is quite confident the expanded Panama Canal “may not attract very much Asia–West Coast cargo because it takes an extra two weeks for Panama cargo to reach store shelves compared to going through Los Angeles.”


With total throughput of 80.4mt (million tonnes) in 2015, the Port of Long Beach is second only to the Port of Vancouver in Canada on the west coast. Long Beach is in the middle of an aggressive US$4 billion modernization programme and has expanded its on-dock rail capacity to 30%, partly through a US$93 million Green Port Gateway project, which opened last September. It hopes to reach 35% on-dock rail use this decade and long term wants to achieve 50%.

The first phase of a US$1.3 billion Middle Harbour project opened last April in what is billed as “the most advanced” terminal in the Western Hemisphere and the world’s greenest with electric power hook ups, zero emissions, and automated cranes and cargo-handling equipment.

The first towers are rising up in the replacement of the Gerald Desmond Bridge, which is expected to be complete late in 2018, a vital link for transportation with about 15% of the nation’s waterborne cargo trucked across the current bridge. The new bridge will offer traffic three lanes in each direction and ships up to 205 feet of water clearance.

And recently the Long Beach Board of Harbour Commissioners voted to give union workers an edge in applying for jobs in US$717 million of planned port-related projects over the next five years, including almost US$500 million in capital projects.

“Unprecedented collaboration” between the Long Beach and Los Angeles ports has rid them of congestion woes and there’s even a shared chassis pool to alleviate any critical shortage of trucks. And Long Beach port’s Chief Commercial Officer Noel Hacegaba says the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the employer representative Pacific Maritime Association have shown “some willingness” to extend their contract before 2019. “We hope they do and we’re willing to do whatever we can to help the process along.”

Showing its Green Port Policy side, Long Beach says it has dramatically improved air quality with such initiatives as its Clean Trucks programme and dockside infrastructure spending of about US$100 million bringing clean electricity to ships. More than 90% of ships have so far taken advantage of incentives to slow down within 20 to 40 nautical miles of the port to help reduce emissions.


Not one to pull any punches, the Port of Los Angeles claims it has “the best overall infrastructure in North America,” according to Phillip Sanfield, Port of Los Angeles Director of Media Relations, and that saw 48.9mt of cargo shipped in 2015 in trade worth US $270 billion.

The Port of Los Angeles and its neighbouring Port of Long Beach have worked together to rid themselves of the stigma of past years — labour troubles, traffic congestion, and growing wait times — with an imaginative long-term project involving supply chain optimization initiatives to improve efficiencies in the San Pedro Bay complex including the deepening of main shipping channels.

“The congestion issue and labour issues have been eliminated,” says Sanfield. “Truck wait times have been reduced and having a labour contract in place has helped.”

Over the next decade, the Port of Los Angeles plans to invest about US$2.5 billion on further capital and infrastructure projects.

Construction is nearly complete on a complementary array of projects in a US$383 million plan to improve freeway access to port facilities, eliminate traffic movement conflicts, and to accommodate existing and future traffic conditions for port and background traffic.

In mid-May, the Port of Los Angeles and the California new railyard at the former Oakland Army Base to boost rail cargo activity as the first US$100 million phase of a longer-term plan to build a new intermodal railyard with a new logistics centre with rail served transload/cross dock facilities.

The port has introduced an innovative turn time app (Apple and Google) to report both street and terminal turn times. It has also extended its hours of operation; has plans to raise eight new harbour cranes within the next 18 months; and has overview of private investment in a new cold storage transload facility and a new transload and warehouse capability on the abandoned Army base site.

However, private investor plans to ship coal from that site through a proposed giant export facility known as the Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal seem to be drawing fire. The Californian Senate is insisting on environmental reviews for the coal export plan which should slow it down. Last March, Utah’s Legislature voted to spend US$53 million on the Oakland project as it could give an export outlet to at least four Utah coal mines.


The demise of container services through the Port of Portland in May this year has left a gloom over the Oregon facility which shipped 13.6mt of grain, breakbulk and containers in 2015. Westwood Shipping Lines called for the last time at the single T6 Terminal in a monthly service that wasn’t proving viable, partly because of labour troubles and delays suffered by the terminal operator. Containers were about 10% of the port’s business and represent “a significant loss,” according to Kenny Macdonald, Marine Media Relations Manager.

On a more positive note, auto imports and exports reached levels in 2015 that hadn’t been seen for about eight years and with 100,000 units in 2016 through April, there’s a chance to break 300,000 this year. Grain volumes at Columbia Export Terminal were up 35% in the first four months of 2016, while exports of potash and soda ash were lower and breakbulk cargo remained flat, but with the prospect of higher volumes in 2017.


Back-to-back record revenue and throughput years must be encouraging for the Columbia River-based Washington Port of Vancouver USA, which is doing its best not to be confused with the major Port of Vancouver to the north in British Columbia, Canada.

With revenue of US$38.2 million in 2015 — up US$700,000 from the 2014 record — last year was the best in the port’s 104-year history. So far through April 2016 exports of dry bulk are ahead of the same four months of 2015, while the major commodity for the year has been soyabeans at 438,123 tonnes, up over 40,000 tonnes. Corn exports are down at 342,084 tonnes — a drop of over 160,000 tonnes. Wheat continues to drop in volumes both in 2015 and YTD and imports of dry bulk, automobiles, and steel are all behind the 2015 pace.

The river port also has a reputation for handling project and heavy lift cargoes.

There has been considerable investment in rail and port links in recent years, says the port’s Chief Marketing & Sales Officer, Alastair Smith. The port’s newest facility Terminal 5 has space available for a new high-volume mineral bulk facility. Permits are in place and construction can begin immediately on an 86-acre site which has a loop track capable of handling unit trains up to 2,400 metres in length.

A new warehouse is being built on Terminal 3 to increase under cover dock storage and the port has begun the process of developing itself as a Foreign Trade Zone or free trade zone.

Last August, the port completed its West Vancouver Freight Access project eliminating conflicts with the east-west BNSF Railway main line. Costing US$275 million, the project will more than triple the port’s rail capacity and reduce regional rail congestion by as much as 40%. By 2017, the port’s capacity to handle rail cars is expected to have increased from 55,000 to 400,000 annually. Meanwhile, the port is partnering with the Ports of Longview and Portland, Jones Stevedoring, Foss Maritime, Omega Morgan, the Oregon Trucking Association and others to develop a safe corridor for high and heavy project cargoes from the Columbia River to the US Midwest and Canada.

And there’s room to expand at the port’s Columbia Gateway, a huge tract of undeveloped industrial land with nearly a mile of direct access on the river. Permitting has begun for a new terminal handling automobiles and bulk commodities.


The Northwest Seaport Alliance, as the combined ports of Seattle and neighbouring Tacoma are known since coming together in August 2015, is more concerned at expanding capacity for big container ships than it is about anything happening to the Panama Canal.

As well as major container initiatives, road and rail infrastructure outside terminal gates has also been targeted and the Washington State Legislature has approved a recent US$16 billion transportation investment package with key rail projects about to start construction.

Both home ports continue to clean up legacy contamination to put land back into use and restore habitat. The alliance continues to work through the Northwest Ports Clean Air Strategy to reduce port-related diesel and greenhouse gas emissions with programmes focusing on trucks, ships, cargo handling equipment and rail. Smith says the alliance has also pioneered storm water treatment systems that have been highly effective in removing pollutants before it flows back into the bay.


The leading port on the West Coast of North America recently changed its name from Port Metro Vancouver to the Port of Vancouver, not to be confused with Port Vancouver USA across the border and several hundred kilometres away in Washington State. There’s an even greater distance between the two Vancouvers in throughput with the Canadian port shipping 138mt in 2015 while its American counterpart shipped just under 7mt.

The Port of Vancouver is Canada’s No. 1 port and it expects only a minimal impact from the expanded Panama Canal, which it notes is largely motivated by the growth in the US import business from Asia. “Most trade through the Port of Vancouver is with Asia and it is more efficient for that trade to move through our port because it saves several days of transit time,” the port claims.

Year-to-date figures through April show the port has experienced a steady volume which should see it reach about the same total in 2016 as it did in 2015. Last year, container traffic set a record at 3.1 million TEUs, while bulk speciality crops were climbed to a record 3.5mt (up 20%), and potash exports set a record at 8.7mt. Coal languished at 35.1mt (down 8%), but is still the biggest single commodity shipped.

Over the last five years, overall Port of Vancouver throughput has increased by 30mt, which is the equivalent of the throughput of the next five largest ports in Canada combined.

With 27 major marine cargo terminals, there’s always growth and expansion underway in the Port of Vancouver and container traffic alone is expected to double over the next ten to 15 years. While coal exports are in a swoon, grain exports are going crazy, encouraging most major handlers to expand and even a new export grain terminal known as G3 Terminals was given its project permit (albeit with 74 permit conditions to be met) early in June.

That G3 project takes an existing break bulk facility and converts it to a grain export terminal capable of handling up to 8mt a year. If it goes ahead as expected it will service about 168 ships a year.

Other existing grain terminals such as Richardson Grain, Alliance Grain, and Viterra Pacific Elevators are undergoing expansions. Pacific Coast Terminals continues a CDN$200 million expansion project with a new potash rail handling facility due to open in 2017 at a capacity of 2.8mt a year. And that’s on top of getting back into shipping canola oil last year.

In a port built on bulk shipments, coal isn’t left out of the terminal upgrades and improvements, either, with the major coal exporter of coal in North America,Westshore Terminals, at Roberts Bank in the Outer Harbour, continuing with a CDN$270 million Infrastructure Reinvestment Project involving three new stacker-reclaimers, and a new shiploader over the next few years. A new office warehouse complex has opened and the old offices and buildings are being demolished to create added stockpile space ready for the day when coal shipments get back to around 30mt a year as they were in 2013 and 2014 compared to 25mt in 2015 and an expected 24 to 24.5mt this year.

Fraser Surrey Docks on the Fraser River also has a proposal to ship coal on Panamax vessels to Asia, but some legal wrangles have yet to be resolved. It’s the only one of about five coal handling projects in the Pacific Northwest to survive their exhausting legal and environmental battles.

Two of the Port of Vancouver’s three major container terminals are both also being upgraded.


The good news at the northernmost major port on the west coast is that year-to-date figures through April show grain shipments and wood pellet exports are ahead of the same four months a year earlier, while container traffic through the Fairview Terminal at 2.4 million TEUs was only slightly behind the 2.5 million TEUs of a year earlier. Steelmaking coal exports, which were down over 60% in 2015 are still languishing YTD, down another 500,000 tonnes in the first four months of 2016.

With several days’ advantage over transit times to Asia compared to other west coast ports, Prince Rupert continues to boom and bills itself as North America’s fastest growing port for trans-Pacific trade. In 2015, it had a total throughput of 19.6mt compared with 20.6mt in 2014. Log shipments, grain exports, wood pellet exports and the container traffic all set new highs, with containers up 26% at 7.8mt.

Meanwhile, Phase 2 expansion work at Fairview, the sole container terminal, is progressing in a CDN$200 million project.

To improve ship safety new navigation systems, including shore-based radar and a new lighthouse, are about to go operational in what is already one of the deepest, ice-free harbours in the world. 

Milestone dredging complete at Port of Bellingham  

In June 2016, the Port of Bellingham completed a milestone dredging project in front of its Bellingham Shipping Terminal (BST), increasing the approach channel navigation depth to –40 feet and the berthing areas to –35 feet MLLW (mean lower low water). BST has long been underutilized as the port worked to resolve permitting challenges associated with dredging in areas of historic sediment contamination. With the navigation dredging now complete, the port has made reactivating BST a top priority and has budgeted over $7 million in 2016 to upgrade and modernize the terminal’s stormwater infrastructure, electrical service, and barge loading area.

The Port of Bellingham’s Pacific Northwest strategy aims to provide a turnkey solution for marine trades and shipping companies interested in a full-service marine terminal with close proximity to Alaskan, Canadian and Asian markets and the flexibility to meet a diversity of shipping needs. BST offers 1,250 feet of dock space, two large warehouses with over 85,000 square feet of covered storage and 35 acres of available upland. Port facilities are located near major truck routes and within a thriving local marine trades economy offering both shipyard and dry-dock services.

Agricultural and industrial activities in the State of Washington state and lower-mainland British Columbia are densely populated and offer a powerful base for long-term sustainable growth at the Port of Bellingham. The Port has a strong history of servicing the needs of established shipping companies and offering cost-effective solutions to help meet the unique needs of growing businesses. With increased navigation depth, major infrastructure upgrades, and strong pro-business leadership; BST is poised to attract and grow industries.  
Port of Vancouver USA: 86 acres available for a new mineral bulk facility  

Since 1912, the Port of Vancouver USA has been an economic engine and job creator in Washington state. Located at the hub of the Pacific Northwest on the Columbia Snake River System, this deep water port has five marine terminals and 13 berths that handle more than 400 ocean-going vessels and river barges annually, with a total cargo volume exceeding six million metric tonnes.

The Port of Vancouver USA now has space available at its newest terminal — Terminal 5 — for a new high-volume mineral bulk facility. Permits are already in place and construction can begin immediately on this 86-acre parcel, which is specially designed to handle a multi-million-ton facility. This site provides a unique opportunity to develop shovel-ready property on the US West Coast.

Terminal 5 features a loop track that
allows unit trains to be handled within
the port’s internal rail complex. Four 8,500ft. loop tracks were specially designed to accommodate multiple unit trains carrying a variety of dry and liquid bulk cargoes. There is also room to add a fifth track to meet future capacity needs.


Two Class 1 railroads — BNSF Railway and Union Pacific Railroad — transit the Port of Vancouver, offering cost-effective rates. The port has nearly completed its West Vancouver Freight Access rail expansion, a $275 million project that will more than triple the port’s rail capacity and reduce regional rail congestion by as much as 40% on BNSF’s main north-south and east-west rail lines. This allows the port’s capacity to grow from 55,000 to 400,000 railcars per year.

The port’s location near key freight corridors, including I-5 and I-84, provides quick access to major north-south and east- west routes. Transloading cargo to barges on the Columbia River ensures efficient movement of freight and access to inland ports serving the Midcontinent.  


The port offers the most efficient, direct, uninterrupted route between the Pacific Rim and the US Midcontinent and Canada. Customers save almost half the time — and thousands of dollars — compared with shipping through Gulf ports.

Efficient trade routes to and from the US Midcontinent and Pacific Rim have never been more critical as shippers seek to cut costs and save time when importing and exporting goods. That’s why many of them are partnering with the Port of Vancouver USA. Located only 106 river miles inland from the Pacific Ocean, the port is situated on a 43ft (13.1m) deep draught shipping channel with berths capable of handling Panamax-sized vessels. It specializes in handling break bulk, RoRo, bulk and project cargoes, with dedicated facilities for handling wind energy components, automobiles, grains, pulp, mineral ores, and agricultural commodities, among others. Long term agreements with shippers, OEMs and stevedores ensure shipments can be scheduled at an agreed-upon rate so cargo efficiently and reliably reaches its destination.


The port has a dedicated staff that works closely with customers to ensure efficiency in all areas, whether in leasing buildings or property or consulting on shipping and supply chain logistics. This team of talented and experienced people offers outstanding customer service and a strategic and consultative approach that capitalizes on the port’s unique capabilities.

“We’ve made numerous strategic moves in the last several years to invest in the equipment, people, facilities and infrastructure to ensure our customers can get their products to market stress-free,” said Alastair Smith, chief marketing and sales officer at the Port of Vancouver USA. “It all pays off when we hear from our satisfied customers, who repeatedly tell us that they appreciate our high level of service and logistics expertise.”  

Ports America continues investing in its West Coast Strategy 

 Ports America announced on 12 April this year that it is continuing its business growth strategy to increase its West Coast presence through additional investments, services and expansion of its terminal capacity. The latest transaction includes a significant expansion and 20-year lease extension of the Husky TerminalinTacoma,Washington. InternationalTransportation Service, Inc. (ITS), a joint venture between Ports America and

‘K’ Line, negotiated an extension of its Husky lease with the Northwest Seaport Alliance (NWSA) through 2046. Ports America is an equity holder and service provider to Husky Terminal. Included in the lease extension is a planned expansion project of more than $141 million approved by the NWSA, which will greatly enhance the terminal’s capacity and is expected to be completed by July 2018.

Husky Terminal’s extensive enhancements will provide the terminal with approximately 104 acres of leased and preferential berthing area in this major gate port in the U.S. Pacific Northwest. Additionally, NWSA has agreed to order four of the largest, most modern gantry cranes and to complete yard and gate improvements. Upon completion, the newly-designed Husky Terminal will be capable of simultaneously accommodating two 18,000 TEU mega-container vessels.

Ports America is a 30% owner of ITS, with the remaining interest owned by ‘K’ Line. ITS has been operating container terminals for 40 years in the ports of Long Beach (Calif.) and Tacoma, providing services to major shipping lines including ‘K’ Line. Ports America has a long-established relationship with ‘K’ Line and is pleased to provide world-class terminal operations and process excellence to its distinguished partner.


Ports America, headquartered in New Jersey, is the largest independent marine terminal operator and stevedore company in the United States.

The company currently operates in more than 42 ports and 80 locations. Ports America handles all types of cargo, including container, bulk, breakbulk, automotive, project, military and cruise, typically handling 13.4 million TEU, 2.5 million vehicles, 10.1 million tonnes of general cargo and 1.7 million cruise ship passengers annually. 

Port of Longview announces cargo terminal opportunity; seeks interest from prospective developers, operators  

On the 22 June this year, the Port of Longview announced a major opportunity for available industrial waterfront property on the Columbia River of the United States West Coast. As the first port on the deep-draught shipping channel with direct transportation connections to international markets, this is significant opportunity to establish new cargo operations on the Columbia River.

Bridgeview Terminal, comprised of two cargo docks and upland areas, recently became available when a long-term lease with its former bulk cargo
operator/tenant expired earlier this year. While the port is primarily interested in responses to import or export bulk cargoes, it will consider opportunities for other marine-dependent uses.

“Opportunities to establish new terminal operations or terminal redevelopment are minimal on the West Coast,” said Business Development Manager Laurie Nelson-Cooley. “Here at the Port of Longview, we have a facility ready to handle cargo with direct transportation connections and an experienced work force.”

The port has issued a formal Request for Expression of  Interest to determine interest in the property. Included in the request, respondents will find a summary of terminal property, on-site facilities and additional potentially available properties. “Our intent is to maximize this terminal based on cargo throughput, job creation and return on investment to our customers and community partners,” said Nelson-Cooley.

Seeking interest in the Terminal is the first step in evaluating potential uses and agreements. Based on initial responses, the process will move into a formal Request for Qualifications and/or Request for Proposals phase.