The Port of Boston invests in marine terminal infrastructure to handle regional cargo going on and coming off increasingly larger containerships.
The Port of Boston does not seek to compete head-on with the massive Port of New York and New Jersey, but instead wants to be the first port that New England shippers consider for their containerized shipments.
“Traditionally, cargo in and out of our port is within a 100- to 150-mile radius of Boston,” said Lisa Wieland, port director for the Massachusetts Port Authority’s Maritime Department, in a recent interview. “Now we would like to draw that circle a little bigger.”
Wieland is referring to those shippers that have facilities in Western Massachusetts, Maine and Connecticut.
“Our strategy is to service New England exports and imports, not the U.S. hinterland,” like the Port of New York and New Jersey, she said. “We currently capture 38 to 40 percent of New England cargoes.”
In 2018, the Port of Boston’s Conley Terminal handled just over 298,000 TEUs. It attributed the 10 percent increase over the previous year’s container volume to a strong regional economy, higher levels of productivity and a surge in imports in advance of pending U.S. import tariffs.
The port authority also cited that it operates a relatively “congestion-free” marine terminal, which it says largely has to do with its direct management oversight.
“We are the owner and the operator. We’re the stevedore,” Wieland said. “This allows us to make operational decisions quickly.”
Michael Meyran, deputy port director in charge of operations, said the Port of Boston is the only one in the country that does its own stevedoring as a port authority. “We have a great relationship with the labor force,” the International Longshoremen’s Association, he added.
According to spokeswoman Jennifer Mehigan, the port generates an estimated $4.6 billion in economic activity, supports 7,000 direct jobs and services exports and imports for 1,600 businesses across Massachusetts and New England.
More than 1,600 regionally based shippers use the Conley Terminal, including Kraft Group’s International Forest Products, L.L. Bean, Jordan’s Furniture, Bob’s Discount Furniture and Christmas Tree Shops, in addition to Boston’s numerous fish-processing companies.
Surrounded by the city of Boston, the port’s terminal gate remains remarkably uncongested with trucks. Several years ago, the port authority invested $75 million to develop roadside infrastructure that took drayage trucks off the residential streets and funneled them through a dedicated corridor to the terminal gate. The new corridor opened in September 2017.
Truck turn times in and out of the port’s gates average 35 to 40 minutes, and about 70 percent of those trucks calling the port conduct two moves — dropping off export containers and retrieving import containers, Meyran said.
Wieland said the new port corridor also provides truckers with easier access through the city to the region’s major highways, including the Massachusetts Turnpike and Interstate 93. “It’s not even a mile from the port when the trucks are on the highways.”
The port is already planning to construct a modern truck gate at the terminal entrance. “For the truckers, the new gate will be a loop and not a double back,” she added.
Meyran said, “We’re investing to get ahead of congestion. If a terminal gets congested, then trucks get stuck.”
Efficient access to container chassis also has contributed to the lack of congestion at the Port of Boston. Last October, the port authority worked with Columbia Intermodal to add 300 chassis to the Fargo Street chassis pool in time to support the holiday peak season.
Massport has invested more than $500 million at Conley Terminal in landside infrastructure upgrades to accommodate increasingly larger ships calling the U.S. East Coast.
In February, the Massport board approved a five-year $2.6 billion capital upgrades program, which includes $405 million for Conley Terminal. Of that budget for the terminal, $210 million will be used to upgrade the formerly dormant Berth 10 with a new concrete wharf to easily accommodate 12,000-TEU ships. Three new gantry cranes, valued at $45 million and capable of spanning 22 containers, are on order for Berth 10 and expected to arrive later next year.
Existing berths 11 and 12 also are undergoing upgrades, including deepening the depth of Berth 11 to 50 feet. The two berths, which receive containerships on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, have a combined six gantry cranes, which can reach 17 containers across.
“Our ship productivity has increased more than 30 percent over the past five years,” Meyran said. “There’s little dead time for ship handling in our port.”
In addition to the new in-and-out gate and berth upgrades, other on-terminal improvements include the expansion of the port’s 100-acre footprint to 130 acres by turning the former adjacent Coastal Oil site into a container stacking yard. “This will increase our container capacity from 350,000 TEUs to 650,000 TEUs,” Meyran said.
To accommodate the flow of containers from the ships to the stacks, the Port of Boston has recently ordered four new rubber-tire gantries (RTGs). Two have already been delivered, with the remaining two arriving this fall, for a total RTG fleet of 16 for the port.
The port also erected 10 refrigerated container plug-in bays where this equipment can be stacked four high for a total of 200 40-foot reefer boxes.
On the water side, the port is in the middle of a multiyear, $350 million dredging project with the Army Corps of Engineers and the commonwealth of Massachusetts. The maintenance dredging of the inner harbor was finished in December 2017. The deepening of the main ship channels, which started in July, will require the removal of about 12 million cubic yards of material and, depending on continued funding, is expected to be completed by the end of 2021.
Since the opening of the third, larger set of locks at the Panama Canal in June 2016, the Port of Boston now receives two all-water services from Asia via the OCEAN and THE alliances. Mediterranean Shipping Co. calls Boston as part of its North Europe service.
“Between these three services, nine of the 10 largest carriers are now calling the port,” Wieland said. In addition to MSC, the other carriers include alliance members COSCO (OOCL), Evergreen Marine Corp., Ocean Network Express, Yang Ming Marine Transport, Hapag-Lloyd and CMA CGM Group (APL). These carriers’ ships are now in the range of 10,000 TEUs, compared to 8,500 to 9,000 TEUs in late 2016.
“We would have never seen ships this size in Boston [before the Panama Canal’s larger lock opened], but it’s been shipper-driven and we only expect them to get larger,” Wieland said.
She anticipates that containerships with 14,000 TEUs of capacity will be the “workhorse” of the U.S. East Coast ports in the future. “Our infrastructure plans are in line with what the carriers are telling us,” she said.