Ports Primer: 2.2 Current Port Industry Challenges
The port industry faces many challenges, many of which can also involve and affect near-port communities. These include:
The expansion of the Panama Canal to accommodate larger ocean-going vessels, called Post-Panamax ships, was completed. To receive these larger vesselsvesselA ship or large boat., ports must invest in infrastructure by removing sediment to deepen and widen ship channels, and shore-side infrastructure (e.g. docks, cranes) to support these vessels.1
Congested transportation infrastructure surrounding a port can limit the flow of goods to and from a port, even if the port’s internal capacity to handle cargo has expanded. Additionally, many ports are limited in their ability to expand the footprint of the port due to competing land uses.
Improvements in technology can help increase the capacity and efficiency of port operations. For example, implementing technology that makes loading or unloading cargo more efficient may reduce the number of workers needed to manage this process. However, balancing technology-driven efficiency gains with labor issues can be complex. Furthermore, workers must be trained to use new technologies.2
Because the U.S. tends to import more goods than it exportsexportsMerchandise transported out of the United States to foreign countries., ports are often faced with the challenge of repositioning empty shipping containers until they can be reused. Some ports may also lack on-site capacity to manage all of the full containers they handle.
Often, the cost of moving and storing the containers is more than the containers are worth.3 Additionally, storage of containers may be visually unappealing for nearby residential communities.
Port operations can impact air quality, water quality and land use. Many ports are investing in cleaner technologies and environmentally-friendly operating practices to meet federal and international standards. Many ports have also adopted Environmental Management Systems and Clean Air Programs that guide environmental decision-making.
Ports are directly impacted by economies from the international to local scales. International economic downturns can cause significant slowdowns in both imports and exports. On the other hand, increasing trade demands can lead to pressure for physical expansion both inside and outside the port for ports and port-related sectors. Additionally, ports can be impacted by federal, state and local budget crises when they seek to partner with these entities on infrastructure projects. For example, a budget crunch at a state transportation agency may delay implementation of transportation improvements that could increase port efficiency and improve traffic flow for nearby residential communities.
Ports are increasingly devoting substantial resources to address risks associated with extreme weather events and sea level rise (e.g., disruption of supply chains, storm surge, heat waves, intense rain/flooding, high winds, etc.).