New Terminal Launches Improvements at Long Beach Port

By DAVID GREENBERG
Staff Reporter

Strike or no strike, the $575 million Hanjin Shipping Co. terminal scheduled to open this month at the Port of Long Beach will complete the first round of a years-long facelift at the facility where bigger is considered better to accommodate larger and larger ships.

Once the nation's largest in terms of container traffic, the complex has lost business to the neighboring Port of L.A. in recent years.

Other improvements scheduled through 2010 include the expansion of five terminals, the addition of two others, widening and dredging an inner channel, and replacing the dilapidated Gerald Desmond Bridge.

With a shortage of space within the 3,000-acre port complex, the number of terminals will drop to seven, from the existing eight, under a plan that could approach $2 billion. The terminals will be larger to accommodate more cargo.

"If the Port of Long Beach does not build these terminals here, (ships) will go to other ports," said Doug Thiessen, chief harbor engineer. "We have existing customers we need to take care of."

Container traffic moving through the two local ports, already exceeding $200 billion annually, is expected to double in the next decade.

Long Beach prides itself on being able to handle 6,600 TEU (20-foot equivalent) container ships close to the world's largest vessels but it doesn't have as large a terminal capacity as the L.A. port.

The next-generation vessels aren't going to get smaller either. Hapag-Lloyd has put a 7,500 TEU ship into service while China Shipping Group and Maersk Sealand have proposed using ships with respective capacities of 9,800 and 9,600 TEUs.

Other ship companies are expected to follow suit in ordering the next generation of container vessels to keep up with the rise in trade underscored by China's entry into the World Trade Organization last year.

The Long Beach renovations didn't come quickly enough for Maersk Sealand, the world's largest ship company. In August, it will move out of its 118- and 92-acre Long Beach facilities and into a 316-acre terminal in L.A. (The San Pedro complex spent $466 million to build the terminal and another $328 million on dredging and landfill costs to create Pier 400 on which the terminal sits.)

Competition downplayed

Long Beach fell behind L.A. in the battle for container traffic supremacy in 2000 after holding the edge since 1995.

In 2001, L.A. handled $113.9 billion in imports and exports to Long Beach's $94.7 billion the result of L.A.'s intense lobbying during the late 1990s that persuaded seven of nine smaller steamship companies to make Los Angeles their home port.

"There is this sort of competition between the Ports of Long Beach and L.A. for bragging rights," said Jack Kyser, chief economist for the Los Angeles Economic Development Corp. "Now Long Beach is sprinting to catch up again.

Long Beach did retain long-time tenant Hanjin, which will move out of its 170-acre facility and into a new 375-acre terminal next month. The $575 million project cost includes a dozen $7 million cranes with booms 350 high, or 100 feet higher than any other crane in the port.

"This is actually the third terminal they will occupy in the 12 years they've been at the port," said Thiessen. "They've had fantastic growth in their business here. They have a (new) 25-year lease with us. That pretty much means they won't be going anywhere."

With the Hanjin terminal nearly complete, Long Beach's major push is construction of a 160-acre terminal. The $200 million project, which broke ground two years ago, is expected to be complete in 2005. Port officials are in negotiations with a prospective tenant.

Next year, Long Beach will begin work to replace the 2 & #733;-mile Desmond Bridge, which officials recently determined could not be renovated at a reasonable cost. The bridge was in such disrepair that port workers had to tie a net underneath the 38-year old structure to catch the crumbling concrete.

The yet-to-be-named structure, designed to have a 100-year life span, will be constructed just north of the Desmond Bridge with three or four lanes on each side hovering 200 feet above the water. The $570 million cost includes the destruction of the old bridge after the new one is completed in 2008.

Another $40 million to $50 million will be spent between 2003 and 2005 widening the Cerritos Channel to 800 feet from 700 feet, constructing a wharf along the south end of the waterway bordering Pier S and dredging sections that are not at least 50 to 55 deep.

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