2003 a record year for the Port of Tacoma

Driven by record volumes in containers, overall tonnage and a surge of intermodal activity, the Port of Tacoma strengthened its position as the leading seaport in the Pacific Northwest. Port records set in 2003 include:

– Investment in capital projects: $106 million;

– Containerized cargo: 1.74 million TEUs – up 18.2 percent;

– Intermodal Lifts: 468,613 – up 29 percent; and

– Total tonnage: 17.44 million short tons – up 21 percent

“The port’s investment in facilities, infrastructure and regional transportation has benefited our customers to significantly expand their cargo volumes through Tacoma,” said Port of Tacoma Commission President Clare Petrich. “The records set in 2003 are a result of port investments, as well as the hard work and dedication of our customers, business and labor partners.”

Andrea Riniker, Port of Tacoma executive director, added that the port’s record volumes in 2003 can also be attributed to a stronger-than-anticipated rebound in the national economy. “All our major international trading partners experienced strong growth. Meanwhile, the port, our carriers, labor partners, and the inland transportation system were well-positioned with the capacity to accommodate this surge in volume,” she said.

In the Pacific Northwest, noted Petrich, a slow economy and high unemployment underscored the value of the Port to the regional economy. “More than 28,000 local jobs are related to Port of Tacoma activities,” she said. “Our capital projects are creating hundreds of construction jobs, infusing millions of dollars into our regional economy and setting the stage for even more family wage, maritime-industry jobs in the future.”

Key to the port’s growth, said Petrich, is the five-year, $321 million Capital Improvement Program (CIP). In 2003, the port invested a record $106 million in construction and environmental projects. A combination of short-term debt and limited tax general obligation bonds, as well as a portion of the port’s cash generated from 2003 operations funds the CIP.

Construction of the new $210 million Evergreen Terminal at the south end of the Blair Waterway – the centerpiece of the CIP and largest development project in port history – started in August. To make way for this project, the port’s auto import and processing activities were relocated to a new 146-acre, $40 million Marshall Avenue Auto Facility, which port customer Auto Warehousing Company opened in October.

In July, the port completed a $12 million expansion of the TOTE (Totem Ocean Trailer Express) Terminal. The expansion increased the facility’s operational efficiency as TOTE’s two new vessels, the Midnight Sun and North Star, began service to Alaska.

Other key components of the 2003 CIP included investments in regional freight mobility projects, such as Tacoma’s East “D” Street Overpass and other FAST Corridor projects. The environment was also a focus of port activity. In 2003, $3.3 million was spent to construct additional habitat improvement at the port’s Clear Creek Habitat Area, Slip 5 Habitat Area and Gog-le-hi-te Wetland. This investment also included the ongoing cleanup of the Hylebos Waterway.

With construction, transportation and environmental projects moving forward, port officials anticipate a $195 million CIP budget in 2004.

As trans-Pacific trade continued to expand throughout 2003, container volumes at West Coast ports grew by an average of 12 percent. The Port of Tacoma outpaced this growth with an 18.2 percent increase over 2002. Total port container throughput set a new record of 1,738,068 TEUs.

According to Riniker, this growth was driven by a number of factors, including a major commitment by Evergreen Lines to use Tacoma as a primary hub. “We also saw increased volume as carriers diversified their port of entry from more congested areas of the country,” she said, adding that the construction of large import distribution centers south of Tacoma is also driving import volumes.

Container throughput peaked in October, when the port averaged 36,500 TEUs per week. “Our regional exports were also strong, due to strengthening Asian economies and a softening U.S. dollar, making American products more attractive,” Riniker said. “In fact, we saw our export volume expand by 33 percent.”

Intermodal activity grew with container volume. Total intermodal lifts – the transfer of containers between ship and rail – increased 29 percent to 468,613. Several records for intermodal yard efficiency were set throughout 2003, including a record one-week throughput of 10,820 lifts in November. “The port made a key technology investment in Central Point of Coordination (CPC), a web-based system for rail traffic planning within our existing rail infrastructure,” explained Jeannie Beckett, the port’s senior director of inland transportation. “This and other port initiatives helped us maintain high intermodal volumes throughout the year.”

Intermodal yard growth was led with a 48 percent volume increase at the North Intermodal Yard, an on-dock facility with eight 2,300-foot (976-meter) tracks and two 575-foot (176-meter) tracks serving Evergreen, Hatsu, Lloyd Triestino, “K” Line and Yang Ming Marine Transport Corporation.

While international container cargo grew sharply, the port’s domestic containerized business remained steady, growing less than 1 percent. More than 70 percent of marine cargo moving between the continental United States and Alaska crosses Port of Tacoma docks on Horizon Lines and Totem Ocean Trailer Express (TOTE) vessels. The port’s Alaska business represents $3.4 billion annually in two-way trade. International containerized cargo, meanwhile, represents more than $25 billion in two-way trade each year.

Propelled by record container volume and strong exports of Midwest feed grain, the port broke a 1989 record for overall tonnage. At a record of 17,371,000 short tons, total port tonnage grew 21 percent over 2002 figures.
The port’s breakbulk cargo business increased 28 percent, led by the import and export of heavy machinery and equipment.

As a National Strategic Port with close proximity to Fort Lewis, the Port of Tacoma is utilized by the U.S. military. In two separate load-outs, the Army’s Stryker Brigade moved 2,600 pieces of equipment. “We are proud to work with the military,” said John Bush, the port;s senior director of operations and maintenance. “The relationship between Fort Lewis and the port works to the advantage of both, and helps strengthen the economic presence of the military in the Puget Sound region.”

The opening of the port’s new Blair Terminal – a dedicated breakbulk facility on the Blair Waterway – further strengthened the port’s breakbulk business. And in September, FESCO’s Russian Pacific Line service returned to Tacoma, boosting breakbulk cargo volume.

Following a record year, 2003 auto import/export volume followed market trends, declining 11 percent to 160,382 vehicles. With the new Marshall Avenue Auto Facility, the port remains well-positioned for significant expansion with the automotive industry, said Bob DeWald, the port’s senior director of industrial development and real estate. “With our new auto processing facilities and the productivity of our labor partners, the port and Auto Warehousing Company have made a commitment to the auto industry to ensure their long-term success in Tacoma. We are eager to continue to grow and meet the needs of this dynamic industry.”