To prepare for ultra-large containerships, the port revises the plan last updated in 1990.
The Port of Long Beach expects to start accommodating the largest of the current crop of containerships by 2030. Otherwise it faces further market share losses to other U.S. ports.
That was one big takeaway from the latest update to the port’s master plan, which was last updated in 1990. Long Beach said it needed a new master plan as it expects to hit 18.5 million TEUs in volume by 2040, equating to just under 4% annual growth.
Long Beach, which handled just over 8 million TEUs last year, said its current layout allows it to handle 13.5 million TEUs, but that capacity is expected to be reached by 2032.
In comparison, the Port of New York and New Jersey expects to be handling 17 million TEUs by 2050 under its most optimistic long-term scenario.
The main part of keeping the volume rising will be Long Beach’s share of discretionary freight that heads to U.S. Midwest markets via train or truck. Long Beach, along with the neighboring Port of Los Angeles, “have dominated” the so-called inland point intermodal (IPI) freight, “which accounts for over a quarter of loaded import containers that transit through the port, sending large amounts of IPI cargo to the Midwest, Southeast and Texas,” according to the update.
But the Long Beach and Los Angeles ports face increased competition from New York-New Jersey, Savannah and Houston that, despite being longer distances from Asia, “are less costly, often significantly so.”
“If they increase their cost advantage enough to offset the time differential, shippers will likely divert cargo to those ports,” the master plan concluded.
Likewise, Canada’s two main Pacific ports, Vancouver and Prince Rupert, “offer substantially cheaper rail rates and faster overall transit times to the Midwest” than the Southern California ports.
Despite advantages in location and infrastructure, container moves through the Southern California ports are more expensive compared to other ports “due partly to high rail and PierPass fees, more restrictive environmental requirements and rail lines that are more congested than is the case for Canadian ports.”
To end that slide in market share, Long Beach’s port authority is working with terminal operators “to meet big ship requirements and to expand on-dock rail in order to reduce dwell time of containers.”
Those big-ship requirements include ultra-large containerships, which are forecast to have up to 24,000 TEUs in capacity each. That contrasts with the current 14,500-TEU capacity of ships that regularly call on Long Beach, although it has occasionally hosted ships up to 19,500 TEUs in capacity. The ultra-large ships are now more commonly used on the Asia-to-Europe trade, but “they are predicted to arrive by 2030 and will certainly appear by 2040.”
Those ships are some 200 feet longer and 50 feet wider than the current generation of ships calling on Long Beach. Therefore, Long Beach wants future berths designed to handle vessels that have a 1,400-foot length overall. It also seeks wider navigational channels.
As a result, the master plans “places a priority on accommodating larger vessels in the Middle Harbor and Outer Harbor where there are fewer navigational constraints.”
One of the port’s bigger capacity boosters is the redevelopment of Middle Harbor, the site of the Long Beach Container Terminal. Once complete, Long Beach Container Terminal will be able to handle vessels up to 22,000 TEUs.
But Long Beach also is looking at incremental changes at its other major terminals. The port wants to go ahead with the development of an empty container and chassis storage yard at the MSC-owned Total Terminals on Pier T.
In addition, Long Beach is looking at landfill to expand container-handling capacity at Piers G and J, which are respectively leased to ITS and Pacific Container Terminal.
Rail also will be called on to handle an increasing amount of the containers coming through Long Beach. The port’s biggest project on that front remains the $870 million Pier B On-Dock rail project.