Pacific Maritime Magazine - Marine Business for the Operations Sector

Regional Report: Bay Area Ports

Karen Robes Meeks


December 1, 2017

The Port of Stockton offers more than 7 million square feet of warehouse space, four stevedores and two Class I railroads. Photo courtesy of the Port of Stockton.

In goods movement, Northern California ports hold their own, competing with their Southern California counterparts and beyond for that precious market share.

"Northern California ports in general seem to be much more specialized than others on the West Coast," whether it's auto cargo at the ports of Richmond and Benicia, containers at the Port of Oakland or construction materials at the Port of Redwood City, said Jeff Wingfield, director of Environmental and Public Affairs for the Port of Stockton.

At the same time, Northern California ports have the capability to serve various cargo needs and are embarking on projects to meet those needs, from terminal and wharf improvements to the construction of new storage facilities.

"Together, the San Francisco Bay Area ports cover all shipping needs because they are a convenient link to North America and the Pacific trade lanes," said Beth Frisher, Port of Oakland Manager, Maritime Business Development and International Marketing. "Also, thanks to protected waterways here and a moderate climate, vessels can readily come and go all year round."

She added: "Whether one has to move bulk, containers, or vehicles across the Pacific or up and down the west coast, Bay Area ports do it all and efficiently. This is very important for shippers because the speed of cargo is a critical factor in goods movement."

Port of Oakland

The Port of Oakland, which serves a domestic population of 14.5 million and has a regional reach of more than 37 million customers, moves 99 percent of Northern California's containerized business volume and is meeting the demand of growing business.

Port of Oakland maritime officials anticipate a five-year run of record cargo volume beginning in 2017. By 2022, the Port expects to handle the equivalent of 2.6 million 20-foot containers annually. It would be 8 percent more volume than the port has ever processed in a single year.

"With a thriving economy, business volume is on the upswing at the Port of Oakland," said Frisher. "Bigger ships are coming here so the number of containers per vessel is increasing. Above deck containers are being stacked higher now - up to 10 tiers high for some of the megaships calling Oakland."

The port is preparing for import volume to increase at Oakland due in part to the economic health of its core market in Northern California and Western Nevada and to the continued strength of U.S. consumer spending. Quality US exports, like fruit, poultry and meat, remain in strong demand from overseas customers.

To meet the growing demand, the port is raising four 366-foot container cranes at Oakland International Container Terminal to make them 27 feet taller (a $12 million investment) and making operations more efficient by extending gate hours to curb peak day-side volume and implementing gate appointment systems.

More than $600 million will be invested by the port and its stakeholders on projects such as:

• A $50 million project to double the size of the TraPac terminal;

• A $25 million effort to redesign the gate complex at Ben E. Nutter terminal;

$244 million toward grade separation, intelligent transportation system and traffic circulation improvements;

• $100 million toward rail manifest and support tracks for up to four trains a day, 100 cars each;

• $25 million in new terminal equipment at Oakland International Container Terminal; and

• $300,000 to build a new facility for grain transport.

Also underway is the $47 million project for the first phase of a Seaport Logistics Complex planned at the port's former Oakland Army Base property. The space will be used for distributing and transloading cargo.

Port officials are also in talks to develop a 6-acre Drayage Truck Center on Maritime Street to support Harbor truck drivers. The center would feature truck scales, food and retail outlets and fueling stations.

Also coming online is the $90 million Cool Port Oakland, where the processing of refrigerated cargo is expected to begin in 2018. The 25-acre site, which will include a storage facility of more than 280,000-square-feet and 11,200 feet of new rail track, will be able to handle 36 rail cars daily and move 27,000 reefers annually.

Port of Stockton

Situated in the state's Central Valley on a deep-water shipping channel, the Port of Stockton mainly handles bulk/break-bulk with more than 7 million square feet of warehouse space, four stevedores and two Class I railroads that serves the port, which help drive down costs.

"Our inland location really sets us apart (and) avoids the congestion of most coastal cities and ports," said Jeff Wingfield, director of Environmental and Public Affairs for the port.

"We also have more developable land than other west coast ports, including 700 acres of land currently available. We are located close to our users, which are typically agriculture or construction related. We really have few constraints."

Another advantage of Stockton is that its terminals are public and not leased to one specific operator, he said.

The port has been enjoying increased cargo growth in recent years. For four straight years, the port has seen cargo volume reach record or near-record levels, handling about 4 million metric tons per year.

"Agriculture remains strong and construction has picked up post-recession," Wingfield said. "Steel products and cement are up and fertilizer remains consistent. The other factor driving that increase is increased awareness of the Port of Stockton as other ports reach capacity."

To move those goods more efficiently, the port has been investing in several significant infrastructure improvements.

Last year, the port completed a new port entrance that included extending the crosstown freeway into the port.

The $140 million project involved building a four-lane elevated roadway and partial interchange, alleviating truck congestion in the community and helping truckers ferry goods to and from the port, according to the Stockton Record.

There are also ongoing road widening and bridge replacement projects to integrate the new entrance. One example of a recent project and partnership included Union Pacific Railroad and Sumitomo Corporation of the Americas to import rail and build a new rail welding facility.

Port of Redwood City

Officials here project an estimated 1.8 million metric tons of cargo – mainly construction sand and aggregate from Canada and recycled scrap metal to Asia – to be handled on its docks and $7.9 million in operating revenues, according to the port's 2017-2018 fiscal plan approved in June.

"With a projected 10 percent tonnage increase and revenue growth of 17 percent over last year's budget, the FY 2017/2018 Port budget sets aggressive goals for next year," Port Commission Chairman Simms Duncan said in a June press release.

About $8 million is slated toward capital projects, including the replacement of a fender system at Wharves 3 and 4, marina dock renovations and rail spur track improvement, according to the port.

One of the port's major tenants is Cemex Aggregates, which has imported nearly 4 million metric tons of building materials from Canada in the last three years. Much of the material is being used in Silicon Valley and Redwood City construction projects.

The Port of Oakland moves 99 percent of Northern California's containerized business volume. Photo courtesy of the Port of Oakland.

In June, Cemex inked a new 10-year lease for the 8.2-acre marine terminal on Hinman Road, renewing its commitment to the port. As part of the deal, Cemex Aggregates will relocate to the port's new Wharves 1 and 2, with a new and/or upgraded hopper and enclosed conveyor system by June 30, 2018, according to the port.

And earlier this year, the commission approved $6.5 million in improvements to Wharves 3 and 4 to prevent dock damage from larger ships calling at the port.

Improvements at Wharf 3 include removing the fender system and installing nine large steel-supported dolphins (man-made marine structures that reach above the water level and is not linked to shore), according to the port.

At Wharf 4, crews will take out the old fender systems and put in new ones, repair the decks of six concrete dolphins and replace the 5-foot wide steel truss walkways between the dolphins of Wharf 3 and Wharf 4 with a 10-foot wide steel pile-supported access pier for easier ship-to-shore access, according to the port.


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