Jaxport on Monday celebrated the completion of the deepening of 11 miles of the federal shipping channel to 47 feet.
The St. Johns River shipping channel from Mayport Naval Station to Jacksonville, Florida’s, Blount Island had been 40 feet deep.
Port authority officials were joined by local, state and federal leaders as well as representatives of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District in a ribbon-cutting Monday.
“Florida’s seaports are economic drivers for our state and serve as gateways to domestic and international markets,” Jared W. Perdue, the Florida Department of Transportation secretary, said at the event. “Through FDOT’s strategic investments, our seaports continue to expand and modernize to meet the needs of Florida’s growing economy and communities.
“The Jaxport harbor deepening project communicates to the world that Florida is open for business and demonstrates Florida’s unwavering commitment to strengthen and grow supply chains while providing a safe, resilient, competitive and dynamic multimodal transportation system,” Perdue said.
The deepening project, which was completed three years ahead of the original schedule, has cost $420 million, funded by the federal government, state of Florida, city of Jacksonville, Jaxport and SSA Atlantic.
The harbor deepening allows larger ships to call Blount Island. It also enables ocean carriers that already have stops in Jacksonville to carry more cargo. As part of the project, a new turning basin gives larger vessels room to maneuver at Blount Island.
Ocean carrier MSC already has expanded its service to Jacksonville. The MSC Reet II made its first call on April 26 as part of the shipping line’s Florida Gulf feeder service. The port rotation is Freeport, Bahamas; Rio Haina and Caucedo, Dominican Republic; and Fort Lauderdale and Jacksonville, Florida.
Jacksonville’s harbor project completion comes just two months after the Georgia Ports Authority celebrated the deepening of the Savannah harbor to add 5 feet of depth to its shipping channel.
Jaxport earlier this month completed more than $100 million in berth enhancements to enable the SSA Jacksonville Container Terminal (JCT) at Blount Island to simultaneously accommodate two post-Panamax container ships. Early next year, terminal operator SSA Atlantic will bring on three new eco-friendly 100-gauge container cranes, doubling the terminal’s total.
More than $70 million in additional terminal enhancements, funded by SSA and a grant from the U.S. Maritime Administration, are underway to expand container capacity at JCT. By the spring of 2023, SSA will complete the first three of seven construction phases, producing about 31 acres of newly paved and improved operating space, according to Jaxport. The total project of about 93 acres is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2024, allowing SSA JCT to accommodate 500,000 containers annually.
The Jacksonville harbor deepening project was in the works for nearly two decades. A feasibility study got underway in 2005, and construction began in February 2018. According to Jaxport officials, the project created or protected 15,000 jobs throughout the supply chain, including trucking, warehousing and distribution.
“As with all Corps projects, this mammoth civil works effort was undertaken to upgrade the nation’s waterways and ports, to strengthen supply chains and promote economic growth while protecting the environment,” said Col. James Booth, commander of the Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District. “As a result of this team effort, we expect Jacksonville harbor will grow and prosper as a preferred destination and point of departure for the largest, most cost-effective commercial fleets of the mid-21st century.”
The funding covered the deepening of 11 miles of a 13-mile federally authorized project, according to Jaxport, which said Monday that “the final two miles are authorized and under review.”
Late last month, Jaxport’s board approved a $210 million long-term lease and relocation agreement with Southeast Toyota Distributors that includes improvements to the Blount Island Marine Terminal.
SET will relocate operations from its 50-acre facility at Jaxport’s Talleyrand Marine Terminal and an adjacent 23-acre private facility into a single 88-acre property at the Blount Island Marine Terminal.
The public-private partnership includes a nearly $180 million lease with Jaxport and an additional $16.5 million from SET to modernize the Blount Island terminal, according to the announcement. The Florida Department of Transportation will provide $16.5 million for terminal development.
Terminal upgrades will include two state-of-the-art processing buildings, new on-site rail connections and truck loading areas, Jaxport said.
Construction of the new facility is slated to be completed in late 2024.