Analyst suggests little immediate impact of Panama Canal expansion on East Coast ports

From the Jacksonville Business Insider’s Panama Canal expansion might not impact East Coast immediately:

Mark Szakonyi, an associate editor with the Journal of Commerce and former Business Journal logistics reporter, […] spoke Monday to Jacksonville’s Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals on the state of the logistics/transportation industry. One topic he covered was how the canal widening will affect the East Coast. Not all analysts believe ports will miss out on a bonanza of trade if their shipping channels aren’t deepened by 2015, he said.

Some believe the cargo that would transition from West Coast ports to the East Coast has already come. If there’s any more to come, it will be in the low single digits.

The piece cites an interesting data point I had not seen:

And some analysts are saying an all-water route through the Panama Canal may only save about $100 per load for the whole supply chain cost.

That means, assuming the new fees for using the widened Panama Canal do not increase dramatically, that there would certainly be cost savings for shippers who would like to switch from using the West Coast to the East, but that those savings would be limited and might be offset by the extra time that ships require. Most goods could be unloaded at West Coast ports, put on eastbound trains, and arrive at their final destinations days sooner than goods that are shipped all the way the East Coast through the widened canal.

In writing about the issue of the expensive and environmentally tricky Savannah Harbor Expansion Project, I’ve regularly noted that the Corps of Engineers’ economic projections that predict growth in the number of containers handled at the Georgia ports will increase at the same rate whether the Savannah River is dredged or not.

The piece cited here is yet more reason to think that many dredging proponents have overstated the importance of deepening East Coast ports and overstated the negative effects on those East Coast harbors that are not deepened.