Congestion at other West Coast ports has caused an increasing number of ships to use the Port of Portland in hopes of being unloaded quicker and being able to return to Asia for more goods during the 2021 peak season.
Portland is the leading port on the U.S. West Coast for exports. It is also the largest mineral bulk port on the West Coast. Annually, over 17 million tons of cargo move through the port. Of that amount, approximately 11 million tons of cargo moves through port-owned and -operated facilities.
The primary exports moving through the port include grain, soda ash, potash, automobiles and forest products. Its major imports include automobiles, steel, machinery, mineral bulks and other varied products.
In total, the annual value of the imports and exports that move through the Port of Portland is approximately $15.4 billion. The port’s airports, marine properties and business parks generate more than 27,000 local jobs and $1.8 billion in wages.
The Port of Portland is responsible for oversight of Portland International Airport, general aviation, and marine activities in the Portland, Oregon metropolitan area. The Port’s authority was established in 1891 by the Oregon legislature to dredge and maintain a shipping channel from Portland to the Pacific Ocean. The current Port structure was established by the 1970 legislature. At that time, the original Port was combined with the Portland Commission of Public Docks, which was a city agency created in 1910.
The port owns four marine terminals, including Oregon’s only deep-draft container port, as well as three airports. The Port manages five industrial parks around the metropolitan area. This article will focus on the marine facilities only.
The port’s marine terminals are located along the Willamette and Columbia rivers, away from the city itself. The terminals are served by rail (BNSF and Union Pacific railroads), connecting interstate highways and river barges.
Terminals 2, 4 and 5 are on the Willamette River; Terminal 6 is on the Columbia River.
Terminal 2 (T-2) contains 52.5 acres. The facility can handle virtually any cargo from lumber and forest products to steel, machinery and packaged cargoes. There is also a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers facility located at T-2.
Terminal 4 (T-4) contains 262 acres. It is a multi-purpose facility with seven ship berths capable of handling a variety of cargoes, including autos, forest products, steel, dry bulks and liquid bulks. T-4 also handles Toyota vehicle distribution, and has roll-on/roll-off (ro-ro) capabilities.
Oregon-grown bulk grains are exported from the port. In 2016, the Port of Portland led the nation’s ports in wheat exports. The Columbia River system, including Portland, is the third-largest wheat export gateway in the world.
Grown in eastern Oregon and Willamette River valleys, wheat travels by barge to the port. About 90% of Oregon-grown wheat is exported overseas. In 2017, more than 4 million tons of grain were exported from Portland. Historians have even referred to the Columbia River as a “river of grain” because of its use to move the crop.
Terminal 5 (T-5) contains 159 acres and is located south of Terminal 6 on the edge of the port’s 2,800-acre Rivergate Industrial District. T-5 has a rapid-handling grain elevator operated by Columbia Grain, as well as a potash export facility operated by Canpotex.
Potash is a nutrient used to manufacture fertilizer; it is one of the dry bulk products moved through T-5. Canpotex expanded its terminal to boost annual production capacity from 3.5 million metric tons to 7.5 million metric tons.
International Raw Materials handles various liquid fertilizer products and delivers those products around the world. In 2010 an updated pipeline rack system was constructed for specific tenant needs.
Terminal 6 (T-6) comprises 419 acres. It is a multi-purpose facility that features five ship berths and an on-dock rail yard, with eight tracks. Autos, intermodal containers and breakbulk cargoes are handled at T-6.
Shippers can move their products by rail or sea at the port’s most versatile terminal. It has almost 200 acres of multi-use space as well as an intermodal yard.
Direct rail service includes a shuttle rail service operated by BNSF Railway at the terminal. This service allows containers to move from Portland to Seattle/Tacoma (Northwest Seaport Alliance, or NWSA; to read a recent FreightWaves Classics article about the NWSA, go here). There, goods can be loaded onto ocean carriers. BNSF trains carry both imports and exports to and from the Portland market.
The container facility at T-6 has a 125-acre container yard and seven container cranes, four of which are post-Panamax. There is a fully grounded reach stacker operation with 620 refrigerated container connections. Containers can be moved to/from T-6 by truck, rail and ship.
The Port of Portland is the fifth-largest auto import gateway in the United States. It has been an automotive gateway since 1953; imported Volkswagens came through the port. Over the nearly 70 years since, more than 11 million vehicles have moved through the port, including those manufactured by Ford, Honda, Hyundai and Toyota.
Investing for the future
Working in concert with the state of Oregon, Portland, the port’s tenants and the railroads that serve it, investments have been made in rail yards, new track, overpasses and related projects. The port’s overall goals have been to improve capacity, the speed in which cargo is handled and safety.