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Atlantic Coast U.S. Seaports

Atlantic Coast U.S. Seaports

By Matthew Chambers

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Figure 1: Atlantic Coast U.S. Seaports
Figure 1: Atlantic Coast U.S. Seaports

Atlantic coast U.S. seaports from Eastport, ME, through Key West, FL, are preparing for an expected increase in cargo generated by an expansion of the Panama Canal scheduled for completion in 20141 (figure 1). Preparations at east coast ports include installation of larger cranes and dredging channels to accommodate container ships with nearly two and one-half times2 the capacity of current Panamax vessels, the largest ships that now transit the canal (figure 2).

Figure 2: Panamax Versus Post-Panamax
Figure 2: Panamax Versus Post-Panamax

The Atlantic coast seaports facilitate freight flow and international trade for both the long-established and populous Northeast, and the growing areas along the Southeast Atlantic coast.

This fact sheet highlights the major Atlantic container ports of New York/New Jersey, Virginia, Savannah, and Charleston. Containerships and containerized cargo comprise the bulk of vessel calls and most of the vessel value at these seaports along the eastern seaboard. Commodities transiting the canal to the Atlantic ports include auto parts, bananas, chemicals, canned and frozen fish, and pulpwood, among others.3

Select Atlantic Coast U.S. Seaports

Port of New York/New Jersey

The Port of New York/New Jersey was the largest Atlantic coast U.S. seaport in terms of total tonnage and the third largest in terms of intermodal TEU4 containers handled in 2008.5 Only the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are larger.6 The public Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which coexists with privately managed terminals in the area, manages marine terminals (e.g., Brooklyn, Elizabeth, and Newark) and specialized facilities in a 25-mile long port district.7 These ports handle a wide array of cargo, including break-bulk, container, and Roll On/Roll Off (RO/RO) vessels.8 However, containerships (52 percent) and tankers (29 percent) account for the majority of vessel calls (table 1).

Bayonne Bridge Air Draft

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ) commissioned the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to study the Bayonne Bridge's approximately 150 ft navigational clearance (a.k.a. air draft).1 The Bayonne Bridge connects Bayonne, NJ, and Staten Island, NY, over the Kill Van Kull2. The bridge's current air draft may pose a navigational barrier to larger vessels passing underneath. The PANYNJ is considering a range of options, including raising up the existing arch to provide clearance of 215 ft.3

1 Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, Bayonne Bridge Air Draft Analysis (September 2009). Available at http://www.panynj.gov/ as of August 2010.

2 Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, Bayonne Bridge History. Available at http://www.panynj.gov/ as of August 2010.

3 Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, Bayonne Bridge Air Draft Analysis (September 2009). Available at http://www.panynj.gov/ as of August 2010.


Port of Savannah

The Port of Savannah, GA, was the second largest Atlantic coast container port9 and the 22nd largest U.S. port in terms of tonnage handled in 2008.10 Containerships accounted for over 77 percent of the vessel calls (table 2).

The Georgia Port Authority (GPA) owns and operates the major marine terminals (e.g., Garden City, Colonel's Island) in the region.11 The GPA is adding container and gantry cranes.12

Heartland Corridor

The Heartland Corridor, a public-private partnership, will allow double-stack rail operations between the port, intermediate destinations, and Chicago, IL. The intermediate destinations include inland terminals in Winchester, VA, and near Columbus, OH1.

1 The Port of Virginia, Heartland Corridor on Target for Summer Opening. Available at http://blog.portofvirginia.com/ as of August 2010.


Port of Virginia

The Port of Virginia includes Norfolk and Newport News, with Norfolk accounting for 96 percent of the value handled. Over 85 percent of the value passing through Norfolk was containerized cargo. Norfolk was the third largest container port along the Atlantic coast in 2008.13 Norfolk and Newport News were the 16th and 34th largest customs ports in the United States, respectively, in terms of tonnage handled in 2008.14 Containerships accounted for 65 percent and dry bulk accounted for 22 percent of vessel calls in the Port of Virginia in 2009 (table 3).

The Virginia Port Authority (VPA) owns and operates the major marine terminals (Newport News, Norfolk, and Portsmouth) in the region. In addition, the VPA recently signed a 20-year lease agreement to take charge of a private terminal in Portsmouth, VA.15

Bi-State Jasper County Terminal

Georgia and South Carolina are jointly developing a new bi-state marine terminal in Jasper County, SC, along the Savannah River.1 The states are drafting an interstate compact, similar to the Port of New York and New Jersey, authorizing a bi-state port authority to own and operate this facility.2 The new bi-state marine terminal is in the early planning stages.

1 Jasper County, SC. Progress Update: Program Management for the Jasper Ocean Terminal (July 19, 2009). Available at http://www.jaspercountysc.org as of August 2010.

2 SC State Ports Authority, Future Port Development. Available at http://www.port-of-charleston.com/ as August 2010.


Figure 3: Atlantic Port Call by Vessel Type, 2009
Figure 3: Atlantic Port Call by Vessel Type, 2009

Port of Charleston

Along the Atlantic coast, the Port of Charleston was the fourth largest U.S. container port in terms of TEU handled,16 but the 39th largest U.S. port in terms of tonnage handled in 2008.17 Containerships accounted for 70 percent and RO/RO accounted for 14 percent of the vessel calls (table 4).

The South Carolina State Ports Authority (SCSPA) owns and operates five marine terminals in the region, three of which are container terminals (North Charleston, Columbus Street, and Wando Welch). 18 The SCSPA is also constructing a new container terminal on the site of the former Naval Base Charleston.19

Select Atlantic Seaports, Vessel Type

Figure 3 shows that seaports often specialize in cargo handling by vessel type. For instance, Baltimore is the leading port for RO/RO vessels. New York/New Jersey followed by Philadelphia are the leading ports for tankers.

Figure 4: Atlantic Port Call by Tonnage, 2009
Figure 4: Atlantic Port Call by Tonnage, 2009

Table 5 shows that the ports of New York/New Jersey, Savannah, Virginia, and Charleston are the leading container ports along the Atlantic coast. Figure 3 and table 5 have different port ranges than figure 4 and table 6 due to differing data sources.20

Select Atlantic Seaports, Tonnage

Figure 4 shows Newark, NJ, as the leading U.S. Customs port for vessel tonnage. Philadelphia, PA, is second, followed by Norfolk, VA, Savannah, GA, and Baltimore, MD.

Table 6 shows Newark is the leading U.S. Customs port for total cargo tonnage and vessel value. Savannah is second in foreign vessel value, followed by New York, NY, Charleston, SC, and Norfolk, VA.

1 Panama Canal Authority, Panama Canal News (December 2009). Available at http://www.pancanal.com/ as of August 2010.

2 Calculations utilize a 4,500 v. 12,000 Twenty-foot Equivalent Unit (TEU) container vessels based on Panama Canal Authority, Proposal for the Expansion of the Panama Canal: Third Set of Locks Project (April 24, 2006). Figure 30. Available at http://www.pancanal.com/ as of August 2010.

3 Panama Canal Authority, Principle Commodities Shipped Through the Panama Canal (FY07-09). Available at http://www.pancanal.com/ as of August 2010.

4 Twenty-foot Equivalent Unit.

5 U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Navigation Data Center, Tonnage for Selected U.S. Ports in 2008. Available at http://www.iwr.usace.army.mil/ as of August 2010, and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Navigation Data Center, U.S. Waterborne Container Traffic by Port/Waterway in 2008. Available at http://www.iwr.usace.army.mil/ as of August 2010.

6 U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Navigation Data Center, U.S. Waterborne Container Traffic by Port/Waterway in 2008. Available at http://www.iwr.usace.army.mil/ as of August 2010.

7 Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, About. Available at http://www.panynj.com/ as of August 2010.

8 Roll On/Roll Off vessels are equipped with ramps that allow wheeled vehicles to unload.

9 U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Navigation Data Center, U.S. Waterborne Container Traffic by Port/Waterway in 2008. Available at http://www.iwr.usace.army.mil/ as of August 2010.

10 U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Navigation Data Center, Tonnage for Selected U.S. Ports in 2008. available at http://www.iwr.usace.army.mil/ as of August 2010.

11 Georgia Port Authority, Future Expansion. Available http://www.gaports.com/ of August 2010.

12 Georgia Port Authority, Future Expansion. Available http://www.gaports.com/ of August 2010.

13 U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Navigation Data Center, U.S. Waterborne Container Traffic by Port/Waterway in 2008. Available at http://www.iwr.usace.army.mil/ as of August 2010.

14 U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Navigation Data Center, Tonnage for Selected U.S. Ports in 2008. Available at http://www.iwr.usace.army.mil/ as of August 2010.

15 The Port of Virginia, VPA Inks 20 –Year Lease Agreement for APMT Virginia. Available at http://blog.portofvirginia.com/ as of August 2010.

16 U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Navigation Data Center, U.S. Waterborne Container Traffic by Port/Waterway in 2008. Available at http://www.iwr.usace.army.mil/ as of August 2010.

17 U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Navigation Data Center, Tonnage for Selected U.S. Ports in 2008. Available at http://www.iwr.usace.army.mil/ as of August 2010.

18 SC State Ports Authority, Terminals. Available at http://www.scspa.com/ as August 2010.

19 SC State Ports Authority, Charleston Expansion Advances – Major Construction Project Out for Bid (02/13/2009). Available at http://www.port-of-charleston.com/ as of August 2010.

20 For additional information on Customs Districts and Ports, please see Schedule D, which is available at http://www.census.gov/foreign-trade/schedules/d/distcode.html.

About This Fact Sheet

Matthew Chambers, a Senior Transportation Specialist, in the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) prepared this fact sheet. Dominic Menegus, a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Analyst, provided special assistance creating the maps. BTS is a component of the U.S. Department of Transportation's Research and Innovative Technology Administration (RITA).

For Related BTS Data and Publications: www.bts.gov

For questions about this fact sheet or other BTS reports, call 1-800-853-1351, e-mail answers@bts.gov, or visit www.bts.gov.

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Updated: Saturday, May 20, 2017