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Issues in Transportation - Port Gridlock

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Port capacity is rapidly becoming the No. 1 issue facing the international logistics system in North America and indeed elsewhere in the world. Torrid container growth shows no sign of abating. Ten million trailers and containers moved annually across the country by intermodal. These cargo movements are expected to double or triple by 2020 without corresponding improvements in existing infrastructure. Factor in additional security requirements atop this growth, and we could be headed for port gridlock. Can we accept delays of a week or more to unload container ships?

* Cargo levels have increased 7% through the first half of 2004 at the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority (PRPA) ( when compared to the prior year.

* In Boston, the Massachusetts Port Authority reports cargo volumes are up 15% for the first nine months of 2004. Container tonnage rose 16% to just over 1 million tons

* The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey ( has seen a 27% increase in intermodal moves in the first half of 2004, or 138,277 containers.

Just as widening or building more highways will never be the answer to traffic jams, building more terminals won't solve port congestion. The ultimate answers are to be found in better use of existing capacity - hence, solutions such as optical-character-recognition readers installed at terminal gates and Pier Pass in Southern California are steps in the right direction.

Vessel bunching: This occurs when too many ships arrive at a port at more or less the same time, leading to a surge of activity and uneven usage of terminals over the course of the week. The reason is rooted in manufacturing: Traditionally in the eastbound trans- Pacific, shippers have shown a strong preference for sailings from Asia on Sundays, to get a full week's worth of production quickly into transit. In LA-Long Beach, this translates into bunched arrivals of ships late the following week. Presumably, if ship arrivals were spread out evenly, this would make better use of terminal capacity, accomplishing essentially the same thing as PierPass.

Security is another challenge facing ports. Florida, with more major ports than any other Eastern state, has confronted this challenge head on. The Jacksonville Port Authority (JAXPORT) ( has been accelerating its port security in recent years, including hiring a director of seaport security, as well as fingerprinting and issuing identification badges to 6,000 port users. The congestion at the ports is also affecting domestic transportation because of the trailers that get tied up in ports, the inability of vessels to get into port and the inability to get enough trailers. Even adding trailers or adding tractors is not going to immediately help the issue of not being able to get enough capacity, because



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