While Florida's East Coast ports maneuver to tie in with inland logistics centers, the state's largest cargo tonnage port keeps growing on the West Coast.
The Port of Tampa recently completed the latest phase of ongoing expansion at its container terminal, increasing the paved storage area from 25 acres to 40 acres.
In collaboration with terminal operator Ports of America, the Tampa facility plans to quadruple the size of the container terminal to more than 160 acres over the next several years. This will provide capacity to handle upwards of 1 million 20-foot equivalent units (TEUs) annually.
Florida's three other major ports -- Miami, Port Everglades and Jacksonville -- also are planning for growth as the widening of the Panama Canal in 2014 brings more and bigger ships to America's East Coast.
To handle the anticipated added volume from the Orient, the state's congested East Coast ports are maneuvering to link up with "inland ports" that would serve as logistics centers and transportation hubs to connect with rail and truck transit.
Tampa has no plans for an inland port, but at least two developments are working in its favor.
The state is building a dedicated lane to move trucks to Interstate 4 -- an addition that will speed cargo in and out of the port.
Port director and CEO Richard Wainio applauded the elevated bypass, noting that "we already see 11,000 truck moves a day."
The $390 million limited-access toll road is scheduled for completion in 2013.
Meantime, CSX is establishing a logistics center in Winter Haven. Though it won't serve the Tampa port directly, it brings more rail lines closer and reduces road congestion.
"That rail would, in a sense, serve the same purpose that a regional port does. Either way you end up with that short truck move and the economies of scale from either the large vessel or the train," Wainio said recently.
Poised to move forward without breaking the bank, the Tampa port, which spans 5,000 acres, has an agreement with its terminal operator, Ports of America, to split all future expansion costs 50-50. The company also picks up the port's $1 million a year in maintenance costs.
How much additional business Tampa garners via the Panama Canal is anyone's guess. Deeper dredging would be required to accommodate the 50-foot drafts of super-sized "Panamax" ships that come through the enlarged channel, and Gulf ports may cede the heaviest vessels to the East Coast.
"If Houston doesn't go to 50 feet, you're not going to see a mega ship come sailing into Tampa or enough mega ships to make a billion-dollar deepening to 50 feet worthwhile," said Wainio, who grew up in Panama and worked at the canal.
But Tampa does expect to continue serving as the primary gateway for petroleum headed for the 8-million-person market of West and Central Florida. And with the future of offshore drilling uncertain in the wake of a record Gulf oil spill, the port will need to ready for larger ships that may be on the horizon.
Wainio announced plans this month to build a new wharf to accommodate bigger tankers. He said the facility would be next to the existing oil wharf across from Davis Islands.
The port's 13 berths handled 118 million barrels of domestic petroleum and 5.6 million foreign barrels in fiscal 2009.
A significant hub on the cruise-liner circuit, Tampa also is positioned to remain among the top shipbuilding and repair centers in the Southeast.
With its latest expansion, Tampa's container terminal now includes 2,100 feet of berth length, three rail-mounted container gantry cranes and a 100-ton mobile harbor crane, all on a 43-foot deep-water channel.
The next phase of expansion, due to be completed this summer, includes a further extension of the container gantry crane rails, lengthening the berth to 2,800 feet.
Contact Kenric Ward at email@example.com or at (772) 801-5341.