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Oakland and Savannah Ports Invest in Infrastructure

Major U.S. ports in California and Georgia are in store for significant upgrades.

Thanks to a $175 million commitment from the state, the Port of Oakland is renovating to improve transportation flow, especially for primary trucking and the access gateway, to relieve truck and vehicle congestion.

The reconstructed access into the 1,300-acre Oakland Seaport aims to enhance the flow of traffic in and out of the port, curtail the time trucks spend at the terminals, increase safety and provide more flexibility for seaport cargo operations.

Known formally as the 7th Street Grade Separation East Project, the plan includes a shared bicycle/pedestrian pathway for public access to the Middle Harbor Shoreline Park and is designed to increase efficiency, foster sustainability and support the entire Northern California economy.

The California Transportation Commission (CTC) approved the $175 million for the project’s funding in December. The Alameda County Transportation Commission is managing the project with financial and engineering support from the Port of Oakland.

Alongside the renovations, The Port of Oakland is taking actions to support greener operations throughout the hub as part of a $2 million renewable energy infrastructure project approved in August. The project includes electrical infrastructure incorporating solar generation, battery storage systems, a fuel cell and the replacement of a substation and connecting circuitry.

The project is integrating renewable power to support the port’s goal of transitioning to all electric, heavy-duty trucks and cargo-handling equipment, to curb fossil fuel usage in cargo-handling operations. The project will also improve the maritime area’s electrical grid resiliency.

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As part of the renovation, the seaport is operating two all-electric “top picks” in the gateway to advance the port’s zero-emissions goals.These heavy-duty vehicles resemble giant forklifts, and can load containers weighing up to 100,000 pounds onto trucks and trains and stack them in terminal storage yards.

The Port of Oakland was also awarded a separate $36.6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation in October to support green infrastructure development for added cargo transport capacity and operational efficiencies at its Outer Harbor. The grant is part of a $94 million federal investment in California ports.

Oakland’s Outer Harbor is an approximately 120-acre container shipping wharf and marine terminal that became inactive due in part to aging infrastructure and outdated equipment. The grant will provide the initial investment to reactivate the terminal capacity by installing green energy infrastructure and using zero-emissions technology.

Danny Wan, executive director at the Port of Oakland, shared the port’s ambitions to approximately 300 port stakeholders at an event at the gateway’s Jack London Square marina on Tuesday.

“We need to build for the next generation. It is a future port that not only moves more cargo, carries more passengers and attracts more visitors, but that growth will be achieved with zero-emissions technology,” Wan said. “Federal and state governments have dedicated an unprecedented amount of funding for infrastructure. We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to apply for these government funds to build new facilities and clean energy infrastructure.”

According to the port, Wan is meeting with business partners, community groups and elected officials to advocate for the agency’s needs to garner stakeholder support and government funding.

Port of Savannah’s $4.5 billion terminal expansion

Meanwhile, the Georgia Ports Authority’s (GPA) infrastructure projects at the Port of Savannah will cost an estimated $4.5 billion over 12 years.

An ongoing project that would enable the port’s Garden City Terminal Berth 1 to serve larger vessels is now 80 percent complete. The first four of eight massive cranes slated to work Berth 1 arrived Feb. 9. When Berth 1 improvements are finished in July, the port will be able to simultaneously serve four vessels capable of carrying more than 16,000 20-foot containers or equivalent units (TEUs), as well as three additional ships.

The enhanced berth will add 1.5 million TEUs of annual berth capacity, according to the GPA. The improvements are expected to provide faster vessel service and better accommodate the big ships entering and exiting the port. The project is expected to be completed in July 2023.

Adjacent to the Port of Savannah’s main container terminal, the Garden City Terminal West project will deliver another 90 acres of new storage, supported by 15 electric rubber-tired gantry cranes. Now 20 percent complete, this project will add 1 million TEUs of annual capacity, coming online in phases in 2023 and 2024.

When accounting for the expansions, as well as a new cross-dock facility and renovations to its 200-acre, five-berth Ocean Terminal, the projects will increase the Port of Savannah’s annual capacity from 6 million to 7.5 million TEUs in 2023, and to 9 million TEUs by 2025.

To accommodate roll-on/roll-off (ro/ro) cargo ships designed to carry wheeled cargo, GPA continues construction on Colonel’s Island Terminal in the Port of Brunswick. Construction has started on 350,000 square feet of near-dock warehousing that will serve auto processing, as well as three additional buildings and 85 acres of auto storage on the south side of the island. For the fiscal year to date, Brunswick is up 16.7 percent to more than 352,000 roll-on/roll-off units.

The expansion will grow annual capacity in Brunswick from 1.2 million to 1.4 million units of ro/ro cargo, and is slated to be completed in 2023.

GPA board chairman Joel Wooten said the port authority is taking advantage of a current dip in container traffic to make progress on the infrastructure projects that will be needed as demand returns.

“Being prepared to take advantage of opportunities as they arise requires steady leadership and an eye toward long-term trends,” Wooten said. “Our board’s commitment to constant infrastructure improvement, even during down times, means our customers have a ready partner in growth when they need to expand their Georgia operations.”

Savannah exports up in January, but total cargo slips

The investments come as the Port of Savannah saw exports kick up 21 percent to start 2023, while total cargo volume sank 11.5 percent.

The port, which calls itself the nation’s busiest hub for U.S.-produced goods, handled 110,305 TEUs of exports in January, an increase of 19,419 TEUs over the 90,886 TEUs that exited the gateway in the year-ago month.

“We’re excited to support a strong month for American farms and factories at the Port of Savannah,” said Griff Lynch, executive director of the Georgia Ports Authority. “We achieved particularly robust growth last month in export trade lanes to Europe and the Mediterranean.”

Compared to pre-pandemic numbers, the Port of Savannah’s January trade of 421,714 TEUs in total cargo showed 11.7 percent improvement over January 2020’s 377,671 TEUs.

Total cargo dipped 55,000 TEUs, or 11.5 percent, compared to January 2022. The decline was fueled in part by reduced orders in retail and manufacturing, resulting in import loads softening by 39,850 TEUs, or 16 percent. Similarly, the export of empty containers via Savannah declined 34,650 TEUs on reduced demand for Asian goods served by the empty boxes.

The GPA said weather also played a role in the reduced cargo volume, delaying six vessels slated to call Savannah in late January to early February.

In January, the Savannah port said it handled a record-setting 5.9 million TEU worth of containerized cargo in 2022, 5 percent more than the year before.

The Georgia port’s 2023 start held up better than one of its West Coast counterparts, with the Port of Long Beach reporting earlier this week it had a 28.4 percent year-over-year drop in January 2023 container volume to 573,772 TEUs. January imports at Long Beach dropped 32.3 percent to 263,394 TEUs, while exports declined 14.2 percent to 105,623 TEUs.  

The Port of Los Angeles will report its January numbers Thursday.