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Forum Roundup: The Mega-Ships Are Here! Are We Ready?

March 28th, 2016 by

This summary was written by Redevelopment Forum volunteer Michael Russell.

Megaship“The title of this panel is ‘The Mega-Ships Are Coming,’ but the reality is that the mega-ships are here, and they’re getting bigger,” began Beth Rooney, assistant director of the Port Performance Initiative at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, during New Jersey Future’s 2016 Redevelopment Forum panel on the effects these ships will have on both the port and its surrounding area.

Indeed, large cargo ships used to carry between 4,000 and 5,000 shipping containers, she said. Now, large cargo ships carry around 18,000 containers. And that is good for New Jersey, which is well positioned to benefit from more cargo than ever coming through its port.

Anne Strauss-Wieder, director of freight planning at the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority, explained that increased e-commerce, which has to move faster than ever (think about all those two-day-shipping Amazon Prime orders), and an improved economy are driving the swell in the amount of cargo being shipped on increasingly bigger ships. “Not only are we buying more online, but we want it immediately,” Strauss-Wieder said.

New Jersey is in a good position along the densely-populated and affluent Northeast Corridor to benefit from the uptick in shipping, with a network of roads and rail that makes it possible for products to reach 22 million customers in just two hours from the port terminals, and 130 million customers in a day.

This also benefits the warehouses and distribution centers located along the Turnpike, I-295, and the state’s other major thoroughfares. More freight means more dock workers, more warehouse workers, and more business for everyone along the supply chain. If New Jersey wants to continue to leverage the increased business from larger ships sailing into the ports, Strauss-Wieder said, the state needs to ensure that it has a well-trained workforce that can handle everything from physical freight movement to logistics, finance, and technology.

But first, the state has to prepare. Rooney outlined several projects that will help the ports handle the coming megaships. The most visible is the approximately $1-billion project to raise the entire roadbed of the Bayonne Bridge by 64 feet in order to allow ships stacked higher with freight containers to pass underneath. That project is about 50 percent complete, and ships should able to sail under the bridge by the end of 2017, Rooney said.

Less grand but still critically important projects include reconfiguring roads around the port to accommodate better the increase in truck traffic that will accompany handling more freight, as well as developing a traffic management system to give truckers and other drivers the latest info on the traffic around the busy ports, similar to the electronic travel times signs already on some highways.

With all of these new measures, the ports hope to attract new business from around the world. Margie Piliere, the chief economic development officer at Choose New Jersey, which markets the state to businesses seeking to relocate, discussed the organization’s role in securing tax incentives for companies who unload at New Jersey’s ports instead of Pennsylvania or New York. She also described how the organization pitches New Jersey’s competitiveness to companies around the world and helps new companies navigate the state’s regulations and rules.

However, while panelists agreed that New Jersey will benefit from expanding the ports of Newark and Elizabeth, they also emphasized how important it is that the state maintain its infrastructure, work with its industrial businesses, and continue to market itself as the best place on the East Coast through which to move freight.

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