Record-Setting Traffic, Record-Setting Delays

Despite headlines touting shortages, long wait times, and rising costs, U.S. ports are having a busy year. The National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates monthly Global Port Tracker report estimates retail imports at a total of 12.8 million 20-foot equivalent units (TEU) at the 13 largest U.S. ports for the first half of 2021. This shows a 35.6 percent increase from the same six-month period last year. Volume at the Port of Los Angeles rose to 1,012,047 TEU moved in May, compared with 581,664 TEUs a year ago, setting a record for the Western Hemisphere. Though much of the rise can be attributed to pandemic closures, growth remains at record-setting highs on both coasts.

Supply Chain Bottlenecks

To deal with the growth in port traffic, many ports and drayage terminals are now running at capacity 24 hours a day. Texas Governor Greg Abbott recently waived federally regulated service hours for long-distance truckers. Record volume has them scrambling to increase capacity through infrastructure projects and labor retention.

“While the global pandemic has placed great strain on global supply chains, it has also highlighted how incredibly vital maritime, motor carrier and logistics workers are.” S.C. Ports President and CEO Jim Newsome said in a release.

It isn’t enough. With anchorage times up to five days outside of San Pedro Bay, CA, carrier reliability is in jeopardy. Ships cannot get into berths quickly enough to avoid long wait times and severe congestion. Even though vessel productivity is up 50%, they cannot catch up because of yard inefficiency and insufficient dock and storage space. What can be done?

The Advantages of Inland Ports

Inland Ports, also known as “dry ports,” are already used in California, Georgia, South Carolina, and other shipping hubs. As transshipment points, they help relieve congestion by taking TEUs directly from wet ports via intermodal rail to inland transfer facilities. These hold a great many benefits for both shippers and those awaiting their goods.

  1. Cost – “The value of using Inland Port Greer for our intermodal needs is a savings of approximately $150 per container,” says Shivakumar Basavanahally, Director of Supply Chain Operations for Himatsingka America in Spartanburg. Himatsingka is a major international manufacturer of home textile products like linens, draperies, and upholstery.
  2. Efficiency – Shipments are now safely removed from port environs, making way for the next vessel. Once at the transfer facility, goods can be shifted to long-haul unit trains or trucks. Goods can also be shipped to transfer facilities for transport to ports.
  3. Speed – Intermodal rail avoids delays caused by driver shortages, terminal delays, and lack of storage space.
  4. Sustainability – Trains replace trucks, reducing petroleum consumption, air and noise pollution, and highway congestion.
  5. Economic Development – Dry ports bring jobs and tax revenue to economically depressed areas far from booming ports. They also attract a host of other commerce, including refrigerated storage facilities, distribution centers, and other local supporting businesses.

Looking to the Future

With international commerce continuing to expand for the foreseeable future, dry ports are an answer to many of our current transportation headaches. “Our inland terminals are bringing our ports and producers closer together, providing new economic opportunities,” commented GPA Board Chairman Jimmy Allgood. Getting goods from port to store safely, swiftly, and sustainably will continue to be a challenge, but increasing the number and capacity of U.S. inland ports will be part of the solution.