By Craig W. Turner
On June 9, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie announced that reconstruction of the Bayonne Bridge, which connects Bayonne, N.J., with Staten Island, had reached navigational clearance that will allow the new class of larger ocean vessels to access Port Authority of New York and New Jersey facilities in Elizabeth and Newark, N.J., and Staten Island.
The raising of the bridge’s roadway from 155 to 215 feet amazingly was accomplished without interrupting vehicle traffic; if you’re a bridge lover or engineering geek, the time-lapse video on the Port Authority’s website is something to see.
In Western New York, the news about the Bayonne Bridge was little more than a blip on a Twitter feed. What possible impact could a bridge project in New Jersey have on the everyday lives of people in our community? Turns out, quite a bit.
Folks in the logistics industry working with the Buffalo Niagara International Trade Gateway Organization (ITGO) have been waiting for this announcement for several years.
The world of ocean freight has changed in the past decade, with ocean fleets now employing ships carrying more than double the number of containers as those that currently service the Port of New York and New Jersey. These massive ships, known as post-Panamax – a name derived from the recent expansion of the Panama Canal – are changing the way that ports receive freight. Instead of multiple ships carrying 4,000 to 5,000 cargo containers, there will now be one giant ship carrying 10,000 to 12,000. Which means lots of freight coming into a port all at one time.
The challenge for ports on both U.S. coasts is that they must move those containers efficiently to prevent bottlenecks and delays. This is where ITGO and others feel that Buffalo Niagara comes in.
As a relief valve for the Port of New York and New Jersey, there is the potential to bring containers headed to the Midwest, Southern Ontario or Toronto here directly from dockside at the port and distribute them from Western New York.
ITGO has nurtured a relationship with PANYNJ in this regard for several years and, in fact, has a memorandum of understanding with the port to work together to explore these possibilities and provide cost-effective solutions.
Since the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825, Buffalo Niagara has a long history of serving as a critical hub for the movement of goods. Trends in global trade are highlighting advantages for our region that ITGO believes will create economic opportunity and jobs.
The raising of the Bayonne Bridge has been a key piece of that puzzle – and our understanding is that larger ships could begin calling at the Port of New York and New Jersey within a few weeks.
Craig W. Turner is executive director for the Buffalo Niagara International Trade Gateway Organization.