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The Premier East Coast Gateway: The Port of Baltimore

First came the Port, established in 1706 by the Kingdom of England and designated an official “Port of Entry” for the tobacco trade. Soon after, in 1729, the land on which the Port was established was incorporated as Baltimore Town. Trade soon expanded to include grain, with flour mills powered by water springing up in the surrounding area. By the American Revolution, the Port of Baltimore had grown into an important seaport and shipbuilding center. 

Fast forward to the 21st Century.  While the shipbuilding industry left decades ago, the Port of Baltimore is a key gateway for domestic and international trade and a major economic catalyst for the Greater Baltimore region and the state of Maryland. EAGB has highlighted the Port’s many assets in previous issues of Region on Point, industry profiles for the Logistics Industry, and on its website, www.greaterbaltimore.org.  While this this month's issue of Region On Point will focus on the Port of Baltimore’s recovery and future following the 2020 downturn in overall U.S. port business due to the pandemic caused by COVID-19, several critical facts about the Port of Baltimore bear repeating:

  • The Port’s strategic location on the East Coast and its significant access to rail and major highways allow goods to easily reach one-third of the U.S. population overnight. Specifically: 
    • Strategically located 150 miles further inland than any other Mid-Atlantic Port in the U.S., the Port's inland location reduces land-based transportation costs and allows cargo to reach destinations in the Mid-West sooner than through other East Coast ports.
    • Close proximity to Interstate-95 (one stoplight away), the Baltimore Beltway (I-695), and only a few miles from I-70 East/West​, allows goods to quickly reach warehouse and distribution facilities located along these major arteries.
    • Direct access to two Class One ‘on-dock’ railroads, CSX and Norfolk Southern, is a critical asset as trucking continues to be challenged by labor shortages and highway congestion.
  • The Port of Baltimore is one of only four Eastern U.S. ports with a 50-foot shipping channel and container berth, allowing it to receive the largest cargo carriers traveling to the East Coast ports from the Pacific through the Panama Canal.
    • Along with the deep-water channels and berths, the Port has installed 11 cranes capable of quickly off-loading the cargo containers from these Panamax ships.
  • The Port has enjoyed rankings at or near the top in the U.S. for many categories, including:
    • #1 for over ten years in “Roll on/Roll off (RoRo)” cargo (automobiles, and heavy farm and construction machinery)
    • #2 in the country for exporting coal
    • #3 on the list of Top U.S. East Coast Ports for cargo tons of total trade (imports and exports), #4 for imports and #2 for exports.

                       (Source: U.S. Port Ranking by Cargo Volume 2019 U.S. Department of Transportation)

  • Seagirt Marine Terminal, managed and operated by Ports America Chesapeake,  averages a turn time of about 60 minutes per truck, as good or better than other U.S. East Coast Ports, an advantage as container volumes continue to surge. This efficiency enables e-commerce business to deliver inventory more quickly than their competitors and provides cost savings as ships do not sit idle at anchor or in a terminal.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg (with Governor Hogan, Maryland Transportation Secretary Greg Slater, Baltimore Mayor Scott, and Port Executive Director William Doyle

The onset of the pandemic in 2020 resulted in a significant drop in cargo volume in almost all major U.S. ports due to the almost total shutdown of business from Europe and Asia and the major disruption in the domestic and international supply chains. By the second quarter of 2020, the state-owned marine terminals saw a seven percent (7%) decrease in general cargo, a six percent (6%) decrease in container business, and a twenty-two percent (22%) drop in Roll on/Roll off business for cars and trucks. All of these categories had record years in 2019.

Despite the pandemic’s global impact on shipping, The Port of Baltimore finished 2020 on very strong footing with general cargo numbers for December increasing by eight percent (8%) over December 2019. The rapid increase in e-commerce during the pandemic and Greater Baltimore’s significant locational advantages for the logistics industry were major catalysts for this increase. In addition to the steady increase in cargo business over the second half of 2020, the recovery from earlier lows in 2020 included:

  • Data for the first four months of 2021 shows that the Port is rebounding from the pandemic lows seen during the first six months of 2020. In April of this year, autos/light trucks were up 23.5% and Roll on/Roll off farm and construction equipment saw a 30% increase year-over-year compared to April 2020.
  • Since mid-July 2020, the Port has served 21 “ad hoc” ships (not regularly scheduled) that were diverted to Baltimore from other ports. These containers have increased the Port’s general cargo to more than 937,400 tons, up 28% since the June 2020 low.
  • All the Port’s key cargo commodities including cars/light trucks, containers, Roll on/Roll off farm and construction equipment, and paper are up significantly since the 2020 low point, with double and triple-digit percentage increases.  

This steady increase in the Port’s major business lines emphasizes the excellence and forward-thinking culture that has been a hallmark for the Port of Baltimore for many years. Staying ahead of the curve, so to speak, has catapulted the Port to the position of excellence that it enjoys today. With that said, ongoing improvements will ensure that this excellence will continue.

William P. Doyle, Executive Director of the Maryland Port Administration (MPA) provided several updates that highlight this philosophy:

  • Dredging on a second 50-foot-deep container berth at the Seagirt Marine Terminal was completed in April 2021. A second deep berth will allow the Port to accommodate two ultra-large ships simultaneously.  
  • Four supersized, Neo-Panamax cranes will arrive in Baltimore in September and the second berth will become operational later this year. 
  • The funding for the Seagirt berth project exemplifies the strong partnership between the State of Maryland ($10.5M in funding), the Federal Government ($6.6M in BUILD funding), and Ports America, the company that operates the Seagirt Terminal ($105M in funding).

The public/private partnership that enabled the creation of the second 50-foot berth at Seagirt has also facilitated the reconstruction of the Howard Street Tunnel that will allow for double-stacked intermodal container trains to and from the Port of Baltimore:

"Fixing this bottleneck will finally open the entire East Coast to double stack rail. This project will generate 6,550 construction jobs while an additional 7,300 jobs would be created because of the increased business,” commented Bill Doyle.   

The Port Administration worked closely with the Federal Railroad Administration and CSX who owns the tracks to secure the “Finding of No Significant Impact” document that will allow the project to proceed to construction later this year. Freight rail traffic will continue as the project proceeds in phases, with funding commitments in place for the $466M project, including $202.5 million from the State of Maryland, $125 million from a federal INFRA (Infrastructure For Rebuilding America) grant, $113 million from CSX, $22.5 million from Pennsylvania, and $3 million in federal highway formula funding.

The security of the Port is another area of constant vigilance and improvements, including the recently announced $1.6M grant to MPA from FEMA’s Port Security Grant Program. The funding will go toward solidifying cybersecurity and access control policies and initiatives at the Port of Baltimore’s State-owned, public marine terminals. To read the full press release, click here.  https://mpa.maryland.gov/Press%20Releases/081621Press.pdf

Mr. Doyle summed up the importance of the Port of Baltimore’s assets:

“It’s very advantageous for any port to be able to say to a current or prospective business customer that they have deep water and the right infrastructure to handle the big ships and the freight and highway connections that facilitate moving goods to markets throughout the East and Mid-West. Our industry is very competitive. We compete with ports up and down the East Coast for cargo. For us to be able to communicate to beneficial cargo owners and ship owners around the world that we have these advantages is huge for us.” 


Access the full EAGB August 2021 Region On Point newsletter here.


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Michele Whelley - President & CEO

"We want you to be informed about Greater Baltimore. Don't be shy; please ask."

Michele Whelley
President & CEO

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