February 22, 2017 12:00 PM, EST
New Jersey’s Bayonne Bridge Reopens, But Work Remains to Remove Old Deck
Port Authority of NY & NJ

The Bayonne Bridge opened Feb. 20 in New Jersey after work was completed to raise the surface to 215 feet to ensure larger containerships can fit underneath and call the Port of New York and New Jersey.

The 85-year-old bridge originally was about 150 feet high, but couldn’t handle Neopanamax vessels without exhaustive work to get the containerships to “duck under” the deck. The Port of New York and New Jersey said in a statement that it expects larger vessels traveling through the expanded Panama Canal to regularly call the terminals later this year when the old deck is removed.

But Dan Smith, principal at the Tioga Group, a freight transportation consulting company, said he believes that the changes in shipping patterns will be gradual rather than instantaneous.

“It’s like the Panama Canal itself. You saw all the excitement over the opening of the expanded canal, but the change so far has been incremental. You don’t see all of a sudden a line of 13,000 TEU ships attempting to get through,” he said. “You’ve had persistent overcapacity in the industry, unsustainable rates and weak demand, so there are too many things going on for this to have an immediate impact. They’re making a change for the decades to come, not the weeks to come.”

Paul Bingham, vice president of the trade and logistics practice at the Economic Development Research Group, agreed that there won’t be any changes before the major shipping lines launch their new alliances in April. The agreements between ocean freight carriers allow for them to put containers on other vessels to help combat overcapacity.

“Even those initial new alliance deployments may not see many vessel [routes] taking advantage of the new [clearance height] immediately because there isn’t the immediate jump in volume demanded to justify it, unless the carrier alliances can substitute fewer smaller vessels and still maintain the standard weekly service frequency with the larger ships,” he said.

Nevertheless, Bingham also acknowledged that the project restores New York-New Jersey as a viable and attractive port of call for almost any transoceanic container service to the East Coast.

Walter Kemmsies, an economist and chief strategist for the airports and global infrastructure group at Jones Lang LaSalle, said that steamship lines will be motivated to send larger vessels to the Port of New York and New Jersey because nearly 20% of the U.S. population and household incomes are located within 250 miles.

“Completion of the Bayonne Bridge project uncorks the bottleneck for larger vessels coming to the East Coast and this will reverberate across global trade services as vessels get cascaded off of Asia-Europe services,” said Kemmsies, noting that Asia-Europe container trade is about triple the size of Asia-North America.

The higher clear could eventually result in other East Coast ports handling larger containerships, especially after projects to dredge deeper at ports in Savannah, Georgia, and Charleston, South Carolina, are completed over the next several years. The Port of Virginia would also benefit at a time when construction is underway to expand the Virginia International Gateway terminal. The three-year project broke ground in mid-February.

“Let’s say [hypothetically], a steamship line using the Suez had 8,000 TEU vessels, but really wanted to go to 10,000 or 12,000 TEUs, you couldn’t send it to the East Coast because of New York-New Jersey. Now that it’s opened up, you’ll also stop at several East Coast ports. In fact, the other North and South Atlantic ports will benefit from the improvement clearances,” Smith said.