Replacing Bayonne Bridge now top N.Y.-N.J. port priority
While container cargo volumes at the Port of New York and New Jersey are down this year, the local maritime community at a conference this week spent most of its time discussing challenges of future growth.
Richard Larrabee, port commerce director for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, told participants in the annual Port Industry Day, “We believe a continued focus on growth is absolutely essential,” even though container volumes in the first eight months of the year are down 1 percent to 2 percent. Over the past decade, he noted, volumes have grown at from 8 percent to 12 percent each year.
Half the port’s cargo originates in Asia, and Larrabee and other speakers said the port will face major issues when the expanded Panama Canal opens in 2014 or 2015, allowing much larger vessels to call New York via the trans-Panama route. While the largest ships transiting the Panama Canal today carry less than 5,000 TEUs, the new canal will allow 12,000-TEU vessels to cross the isthmus.
“The advent of larger ships is upon us,” Larrabee said. “When you look at the efficiency of the ships, their cost savings, and the environmental footprint that they reduce, there is no question you have to accommodate them.”
The biggest issue facing New York, he said, is replacing the Bayonne Bridge, whose 151-foot “air draft” restriction prevents taller ships from calling at the port’s main marine container terminals in Newark and Elizabeth, N.J., as well as Staten Island.
It may cost as much as $2 billion to replace the bridge, which connects Bayonne with Staten Island, but he said “it is not a question of if, but when.”
He noted the Port Authority has hired the Army Corps of Engineers to study replacing the bridge. Alternatives to the bridge include demolishing it and building a new one, replacing it with a tunnel, raising its roadbed while retaining its iconic steel arch, or even jacking up the entire structure.
Raise it? Gerard N. von Dohlen, president of Newark/Port Newark Refrigerated Warehouse, proposed simply razing the bridge. Speaking at the conference, he said the structure was so lightly used that there was no economic justification to building a replacement. In 2007, about 8 million vehicles crossed the bridge, about 22,000 per day. He suggested a ferry might be a feasible alternative.
Jim Devine, president of New York Container Terminal on Staten Island, said the opening of the Panama Canal was “a game changer,” and the port needs to prepare itself for the bigger ships if it still wants steamship lines to call at the port and call New York first.
The bigger ships would likely discharge as much cargo in a single call as three vessels do today.
Devine lauded the port authority’s investment in rail infrastructure, which Larrabee said will increase intermodal capacity from 400,000 to 1 million lifts annually by next year.
Devine said one benefit is that container shippers closer to the port will be able to economically move cargo to and from the port by rail, rather than depending on trucks.
The port authority is also planning to build a new intermodal rail facility in Jersey City, where Global Marine Terminal is located, and add 85 acres of container terminal handling adjacent to Global.
Devine said that throughout the port, container terminals need to increase the density of containers on terminals and the amount of throughput that each acre handles. He noted that both his company and Maher Terminal in Elizabeth are investigating the use of rail-mounted gantry cranes at their facilities.
He also said port labor needs to become more productive.
“It’s fair to say, as a general statement, that our harbor and our terminals do not measure up. We do not perform, in terms of stevedoring operations, at an acceptable level,” he said. “As an overall average we do not exceed 25 gross moves per hour on most of our vessels. This is in stark contrast with the competing ports down the coast where stevedoring performance is approximately 30 moves per hour in some locations and 35 moves per hour in the likes of Savannah and Charleston.” ' Chris Dupin