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Expansion on the Panama: A Boon for East Coast Ports?

In spite of doubts about economic viability, port cities on the Atlantic scramble to make room for mega cargo ships, Curtis Tate reports.
May 5, 2012, 5am PDT | Ryan Lue
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Cities across the East Coast are racing to prepare for an expansion of the Panama Canal, which officials hope will divert transcontinental shipping from the pavement to the sea. Slated for completion in 2014, the expansion will make way for cargo ships that can carry two to three times as many containers as the biggest ships currently on the route.

"I don't know too many ports that have gambled on shallow water that have stayed in the game," said Kevin Lynskey, the assistant director for seaport business initiatives at the Port of Miami. "If we didn't dredge and other people did, we certainly would lose more containers."

Ports on the southern end of the Eastern Seaboard, like those in Charleston, Savannah, and Miami, aren't currently deep enough to handle the new traffic, and worry that they might soon get passed over for larger ports up north. But with an already extensive, well-established rail network connecting the east and west coasts, those on the Pacific doubt the economic benefit of shifting gears.

"Why not just unload all of it here?" asked Art Wong, a spokesman for the Port of Long Beach. "We hope to maintain those kinds of advantages."

But the Southern port cities aren't waiting. State authorities in Flordia, Georgia, and South Carolina are proposing hundreds of millions of dollars in port expansions, drawing on state coffers if their pleas for federal funds fall on deaf ears.

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Published on Wednesday, May 2, 2012 in McClatchy
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