The Helen Delich Bentley Port of Baltimore has always been a record-breaker, but since the Panama Canal expansion was completed in late June 2016, the port continues to be a major force in driving Maryland’s economy.
After a nine-year, $5 billion expansion effort, the Panama Canal is now 180-feet wider and 60-feet deeper to accommodate larger container ships. It was projected that the traffic through the larger canal would add an additional 2 percent to the Port’s estimated 3 percent annual growth, but officials have reported a 14 percent increase in their container business.
In the first quarter of 2018, the port reported its best performance in its 312-year history: a total of 2,765,247 tons of general cargo crossed the public piers, an 8 percent increase over the first quarter in 2017.
While the port is seeing record numbers, competition among other East Coast ports is tough. The Port of Baltimore ranks first for autos and light trucks, roll on/roll off heavy farm and construction machinery and imported sugar. The port ranks second in exported coal. Overall, the port ranks ninth among all ports for the total dollar value of cargo and 12th in foreign cargo tonnage.
“The Port of Baltimore is proud to be open for business as one of Maryland’s top economic generators,” Jim White, executive director of the Maryland Port Administration, said. “The port generates good-paying, family-supporting jobs for many Maryland families. We will keep pursuing the necessary investments that will allow us to continue to grow the port.”
The port’s location has its advantages and disadvantages. Tucked further inland of the Chesapeake Bay, it means goods are that much closer to markets. It’s less congested than its busier competitors like New York, and is consistently ranked high among the nation’s most efficient. But ships can spend an extra eight hours to arrive up the Bay – meaning some shipping lines pass by.
The port’s competitive edge is also stymied by rail connections. Other ports can load trains with two-high stacked containers, but Baltimore’s Howard Street Tunnel is not tall enough. As a result, containers must be transported via trucks, adding a day’s drive. Plans to expand the Howard Street Tunnel, which is owned by CSX, have stalled. But officials with the port continue to have discussions with CSX about the project.
Still, Ports America Chesapeake, operator of the Seagirt Terminal, is making plans to tackle the growth. Six new yard cranes have been installed and are in service, and additional cranes are in the works. Ports America Chesapeake is also dredging a second 50-foot deep berth, and new gate technologies are being installed to improve efficiencies for trucks coming in and going out.
“We are looking at ways to get more integrated and interconnected with our supply chain partners through technology,” Bayard Hogans, general manager at Ports America Chesapeake, said. “I think we’ll see a lot of growth within the next few years. We will need to continue to integrate with the ever-changing landscape – and ensure there’s transparency between us, the truckers and the shippers.”
In March 2017, The Maryland Port Administration also purchased 70 acres of land at the Point Breeze complex, which is adjacent to the Seagirt Terminal, to handle the increased volume of containers and cargo.
The port has a great amount of support from state officials and business advocates. It’s no mystery as to why – port officials report that business at the Port of Baltimore generates about 13,650 direct jobs, while about 127,600 jobs in Maryland are linked to port activities. The port is responsible for nearly $3 billion in personal wages and salary and more than $300 million in state and local tax revenues.
“The Port of Baltimore is an indispensable, if sometimes overlooked or taken for granted, economic jewel for the Baltimore region, and the state of Maryland,” said Don Fry, President and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee. “It’s not only one of the top employers statewide, but also is one of the pistons driving the economic engine of the entire Baltimore region.
“The Greater Baltimore Committee has been a strong supporter of the Port of Baltimore for decades,” Fry said. “We remain committed to working closely with local and state legislators and the Maryland business community to do everything possible to support the port and ensure it grows and remains highly competitive in the global economy.”