- Officials are considering a $1 billion expansion to the Port of New Orleans in Meraux, Louisiana, which is located in the economically "stagnant" St. Bernard Parish along the Mississippi River, according to The New Orleans Advocate.
- The proposed container terminal and distribution center would potentially serve as a "logistics hub" for companies that use the port and could generate 6,000 permanent jobs. Aecom is conducting a $300,000 feasibility study to determine if the 675-acre Meraux site could support the operation.
- The Port of New Orleans continues to see growth in its container and break-bulk (general) cargo businesses, and its existing container terminal is nearing capacity. A new master plan is under development for the port; it includes additional investment and growth strategies even if the Meraux project moves forward.
U.S. port construction and major renovations kicked into high gear several years ago in anticipation of the opening of a wider third lane through the Panama Canal in June 2016. The nearly $5.5 billion canal expansion was necessary to accommodate the larger vessels that shipping companies are using to increase their capacity.
According to the International Business Times, the new Panama Canal lane offered a chance for American energy companies to increase exports of crude oil, liquefied natural gas (LNG) and other products, but some U.S. ports, like those in Charleston, South Carolina, and Savannah, Georgia, were not ready to handle larger ships when the new lane opened.
Big post-Panamax ships pose one challenge, but ports all around the U.S., particularly those with aging infrastructure, are facing additional hurdles. For example, older facilities are competing with ports that have expanded and now use technology and energy efficiency to gain a competitive edge.
And even those ports that are executing renovations find it difficult to schedule construction crews around incoming tankers, which usually cause all nearby work to cease. So construction companies have to account for, in their budgets and schedules, the possibility of idle crews to cover the costs of putting crews on standby for days.
Meanwhile, new construction could be on the way for ports with lots of empty, adjacent land. The San Diego Unified Port District, for instance, is turning some of its port space into a mixed-use entertainment area, while setting aside room for port businesses. However, James Martell, president of Transwestern's industrial development business, Ridge Development, told Construction Dive in August that ports don't usually go for that kind of development, sticking with strategies that can boost port business instead.