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To meet demand, terminals pick up pace

Upgrades help operators to create a state-of-the-art shipping hub

Jim Devine, Global Container Terminals president and CEO, says the company must make investments to accommodate increasing traffic in the region.-(Aaron Houston)

On a recent morning at the Global Terminal, in Jersey City, container cranes wailed overhead as they shuttled to and from a ship docked along its southern edge. On the ground nearby, trucks maneuvered through the metal stacks to pick up cargo and exit the facility.

On a recent morning at the Global Terminal, in Jersey City, container cranes wailed overhead as they shuttled to and from a ship docked along its southern edge. On the ground nearby, trucks maneuvered through the metal stacks to pick up cargo and exit the facility.

The scene was routine at the 100-acre terminal within view of lower Manhattan. But only hundreds of feet away was a more unusual sight: the movement of excavators and other heavy-duty construction vehicles at work on a sweeping, 70-acre expansion project.

The facility’s operator, Global Container Terminals Inc., unveiled the plan in May as it prepares for supersized cargo ships to come through a widened Panama Canal. Company leaders say the $300 million project, which is slated to be complete in April 2014, will transform the area’s smallest marine terminal into a state-of-the-art shipping hub, well ahead of the completion of the canal expansion.

“We’re basically a 1975 version of a terminal,” said Jim Devine, the firm’s president and CEO. “There hasn’t really been a lot of new technology brought to bear since that time, but if we’re going to continue to increase the amount of traffic in the Port of New York, we’ve got to pick up the game, we’ve got to evolve.”

For a time, the expanded terminal at Port Jersey will have an edge over its counterparts in Newark and Elizabeth: it is on the Upper New York Bay — outside the Bayonne Bridge, which is currently too low for the industry’s largest ships. That means Global isn’t relying on the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey’s project to raise the span, which is ahead of schedule and on pace for a fall 2015 completion.

But the terminal project has its own challenges. Guy Buzzoni, Global’s vice president for infrastructure development, said the task of expanding a terminal without interrupting its operation has “created an added layer of coordination,” especially with contractors.

“The nature of the container business is that it’s not predictable,” Buzzoni said. “So you can’t rely on a schedule, you can’t rely on a calendar. And generally things are changing every 24 to 72 hours.”

The expanded Global project calls for adding 20 rail-mounted stacking cranes, more than doubling its annual container capacity to 1.7 million 20-foot equivalent units — or TEUs — and adding a link to a near-dock rail yard. The facility also will rely on automation that Devine said is now virtually nonexistent in U.S. ports, outside Virginia.

Expansion projects also are under way at the region’s other terminals, including the $600 million plan to grow capacity at Port Newark Container Terminal. The operators announced the 190-acre expansion last year, coinciding with a new lease with the Port Authority that now runs through at least 2030.

James Pelliccio, president of Port Newark Container Terminal, said while upgrades will take place throughout the lease term, more than half that money will have been spent by 2016. The terminal is adding dozens of new straddle carriers, cranes and other advanced equipment, while clearing unneeded buildings and adding queuing lanes.

“Our investors recognized over the last couple of years that this is a strategic pivot point in the U.S. supply chain,” Pelliccio said. “And we’re making a commitment to it, both from an infrastructure and a capital equipment standpoint.”

All told, the PNCT project will nearly triple capacity to 1.1 million containers by 2030.

Land is much scarcer at Global Terminal, which sits on the narrow, man-made peninsula of Port Jersey. That means much of the facility’s new features will be aimed at managing density, said Richard Ceci, Global’s vice president for information technology.

The terminal’s 10 new container stacks will be angled along the peninsula, an unusual design that allows for longer rows and less interference between cranes on either side, Ceci said. The setup also is expected to reduce congestion among trucks making pickups.

When complete, the terminal will also have technology like GPS and advanced cameras that will allow some of the cranes to be operated remotely. The features are aimed at improving efficiency, he said, but also safety for many of the terminal workers.

“The people that normally do these jobs are … working in areas where they can get run over,” Ceci said. “We try to make the areas as safe as possible, but there’s no doubt about it — the safest place for somebody to be engaged in one of these things is not down where there are trucks driving all over the place.”

Meanwhile, terminal operators are benefiting from a host infrastructure improvements being made by the Port Authority. In 2002, long before starting the Bayonne Bridge project, the bistate agency embarked on a $1.8 billion plan to deepen the harbor to 50 feet.

The project, which will be completed by 2014, is “the backbone of port redevelopment,” said Rick Larrabee, director of the authority’s port commerce department. But he also said the agency has a heavy focus on the land side: Over the next 10 years, it plans to spend between $350 million and $400 million on roadway improvements around the Port Newark-Elizabeth area.

“All of those projects are important to us, because although more and more cargo is being moved by rail, when it comes to containers, the local market is still the big attraction here,” Larrabee said. He later added: “We will build the roadways and rail system to support them, and at the end of the day, everybody wins.”

E-mail to: joshb@njbiz.com
On Twitter: @joshburdnj

Joshua Burd

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