• ITVI.USA
    16,350.840
    -55.350
    -0.3%
  • OTLT.USA
    2.731
    0.025
    0.9%
  • OTRI.USA
    21.660
    -0.160
    -0.7%
  • OTVI.USA
    16,343.200
    -45.660
    -0.3%
  • TSTOPVRPM.ATLPHL
    3.520
    0.380
    12.1%
  • TSTOPVRPM.CHIATL
    2.960
    -0.660
    -18.2%
  • TSTOPVRPM.DALLAX
    1.610
    0.250
    18.4%
  • TSTOPVRPM.LAXDAL
    3.340
    -0.130
    -3.7%
  • TSTOPVRPM.PHLCHI
    2.100
    -0.250
    -10.6%
  • TSTOPVRPM.LAXSEA
    3.860
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    -5.4%
  • WAIT.USA
    126.000
    -2.000
    -1.6%
  • ITVI.USA
    16,350.840
    -55.350
    -0.3%
  • OTLT.USA
    2.731
    0.025
    0.9%
  • OTRI.USA
    21.660
    -0.160
    -0.7%
  • OTVI.USA
    16,343.200
    -45.660
    -0.3%
  • TSTOPVRPM.ATLPHL
    3.520
    0.380
    12.1%
  • TSTOPVRPM.CHIATL
    2.960
    -0.660
    -18.2%
  • TSTOPVRPM.DALLAX
    1.610
    0.250
    18.4%
  • TSTOPVRPM.LAXDAL
    3.340
    -0.130
    -3.7%
  • TSTOPVRPM.PHLCHI
    2.100
    -0.250
    -10.6%
  • TSTOPVRPM.LAXSEA
    3.860
    -0.220
    -5.4%
  • WAIT.USA
    126.000
    -2.000
    -1.6%
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FreightWaves Classics: Port of Portland helps serve the Pacific Northwest… and beyond

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 facilities at Portland's Terminal 5. (Photo: Port of Portland)
The facilities at Portland’s Terminal 5. (Photo: Port of Portland)

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.

Background

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.

Facilities

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. 

An aerial view of Portland's Terminal 4. (Photo: Port of Portland)
An aerial view of Portland’s Terminal 4. (Photo: Port of Portland)

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.

Wheat being harvested in Oregon. Wheat is one of the state's major crops and is a key export at the Port of Portland. 
(Photo: Port of Portland)
Wheat being harvested in Oregon. Wheat is one of the state’s major crops and is a key export at the Port of Portland.
(Photo: Port of Portland)

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.

The tractor-trailer in this photo shows the immensity of the cranes and the ship it is passing. (Photo: Port of Portland)
The relative size of the tractor-trailer in this photo shows the immensity of the cranes and the ship it is passing.
(Photo: Port of Portland)

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.

Breakbulk cargo is unloaded from the Star Lima at Portland's Terminal 6. (Photo: Port of Portland)
Breakbulk cargo is unloaded from the Star Lima at Portland’s Terminal 6. (Photo: Port of Portland)

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. 

This map shows the rail lines of BNSF and Union Pacific from Portland. (Map: Port of Portland)
This map shows the rail lines of BNSF and Union Pacific from Portland. (Map: Port of Portland)

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.

This ship is an automobile carrier (a ro-ro). (Photo: Port of Portland)
This ship is an automobile carrier (a ro-ro). (Photo: Port of Portland)

Automobiles

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.

A new Toyota is inspected. (Photo: Port of Portland)
A new Toyota is inspected. (Photo: Port of Portland)

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.

A crane hovers over the Saga Welco at Terminal 6. (Photo: Port of Portland)
A crane hovers over the Saga Welco at Terminal 6. (Photo: Port of Portland)

Scott Mall, Managing Editor of FreightWaves Classics

Scott Mall serves as Managing Editor of FreightWaves Classics. He writes articles for the website, edits the SONAR Daily Watch series, marketing material for FreightWaves and a variety of FreightWaves special projects. Mall’s career spans 45 years in public relations, marketing and communications for Fortune 500 corporations, international non-profits, public relations agencies and government agencies.

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