Photo: U.S. DOT

Photo: U.S. DOT

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration recently released a study on shipping patterns and industry costs that will help the United States prepare for the anticipated impact on its ports, waterways and intermodal freight systems from the Panama Canal expansion, and not surprisingly it will affect trucking.

The expansion of the Panama Canal, scheduled for completion in 2015, will give much larger ships, called “Post Panamax” vessels, greater access to the U.S. ports on the East and Gulf coasts.

The Panama Canal Expansion Study, the first of a two-part study, found the integration of Post-Panamax vessels into U.S. trade lanes will have substantial implications for the nation’s shippers, ports and surface freight corridors, particularly along the East Coast, Gulf Coast and inland states located east of the Mississippi River.

In addition, more cost-effective service generated by the larger vessels could improve the ability of some U.S. exports, like grain, coal, petroleum products and liquefied natural gas, to compete in global markets.

The report also notes that shifts in shipping patterns impacting the national transportation system will occur slowly and over time.

With more cargo arriving and departing on a single ship, the demand for truck pickup and delivery on a particular day will also increase at ports

“Terminals will need to increase the number of trucks they can efficiently handle each hour or each day by expanding physical gate facilities, speeding up processing through existing facilities (for example, with improved information technology and automation) and/or increasing their hours of operations,” the report says. “If not carefully managed, peaks in truck traffic may contribute to excessive congestion, emissions or other adverse impacts in areas around the port.”

The report notes rail moves only about 15% of international shipping containers, trucks carry almost all the remainder.

A copy of the study is available online