South Florida ports stand to benefit from Panama Canal expansion

PORT EVERGLADES, Fla. (WSVN) — South Florida’s two major shipping ports — and the local economy — could soon benefit from the multibillion-dollar expansion of the Panama Canal, set to open June 26.

The expansion project will allow larger trade and cruise ships to pass through the country, and PortMiami has had to adjust for those ships as well.

The port right next to Downtown Miami completed its own $1 billion expansion and is ready for the larger ships. According to PortMiami Director and CEO Juan M Kuryla, the port has been preparing for years.

“The port started getting ready several years ago,” said Kuryla.

The PortMiami expansion deepened the port channel by roughly six feet, creating a depth of around 52 feet for the ships to chart.

But deepening the channel wasn’t the only preparation they took. A tunnel was also constructed to connect the port to the interstate highway system. “Construct a tunnel that connects us to the interstate highway system,” said Kuryla.

If the new ships start pulling in to PortMiami, it could mean a cash flow of nearly $7 billion to South Florida’s economy. “The port has been very aggressive and looking for clients,” said Kuryla. “As you see today, we have three of the top shipping lines in the world calling on the Port of Miami.”

Meanwhile, Port Everglades is still waiting for funding to expand their capacity for the ships.

“It’s a situation where they are already here and we need to accommodate the existing business needs of our customers,” said Port Everglades CEO and Director Steven Cernak.

The U.S. Senate recently unveiled a $9.4 billion waterways bill that could accelerate plans to expand Port Everglades and the Port of Charleston, S.C.

Port Everglades set a goal to deepen their main navigational channels from 42 to 48 feet. They also plan to widen the entrance the channel and parts of the Intracoastal Waterway.

“This is a very expensive enterprise to invest into,” said Cernak. “We need new container cranes. We need the ability to handle larger ships.”

Competition among Eastern Ports is stiff, so the investment could be crucial. “To remain relevant within the shipping industry, we have to continue making investments,” said Cernak, “and these investments are designed to help these larger ships in a safe manner.”

The Port Everglades project is expected to be completed sometime between 2020 and 2022. The project is expected to create 4,700 construction jobs and close to 1,500 permanent jobs, once the cargo capacity starts to build at the port.

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