NEW HANOVER COUNTY – Limited by lack of positioning, room for railroad cars and not enough storage space for containers, the North Carolina State Ports Authority is taking the final step toward a major expansion project at its Wilmington location.
Targeting cargo growth and economic development, the port’s new intermodal facility — to break ground in January — will be designed to divert more than 250,000 container boxes from trucks to rail over the next decade. Its completion is expected by spring of 2025 and will cost around $22.6 million.
According to a N.C. Ports spokesperson, the project will support both regional and national economic vitality, supporting safe and cost-effective freight movement options for the port’s customers in both urban and rural communities.
The new facility will benefit North Carolina’s business community by improving infrastructure conditions, promoting regional connectivity and facilitating economic growth and competitiveness. The project will promote the competitiveness of manufacturers, suppliers and distributors of the region by improving freight mobility and efficiencies and increased visibility into the supply chain, and will significantly benefit the state’s exporters, including lumber/food/agriculture industries.
The Ports Authority received an $18 million grant in 2022 from the U.S Department of Transportation through the Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) discretionary grant program for fiscal year 2022; NC Ports will fund the remaining balance.
The Wilmington port is forecasted in 2023 to move 5% of containers by rail and the remainder by truck. With the implementation of the project, by 2032 the percentage of moves is projected to triple, allowing N.C. Ports to better support the regional need to maneuver freight from the coast to the hinterlands.
Once the project is completed, the rail service will be expanded from 14,000 to more than 50,000 rail movements annually, helping to divert nearly 250,000 container boxes from trucks to rail over the next decade, the spokesperson indicated.
The authority is forecasting to finish the fiscal year at over 315,000 TEUs and almost 4.5 million tons of general cargo at both the Port of Wilmington and the Port of Morehead City. Its fiscal year runs through the end of June.
“The project will provide transformational impacts, and these benefits can be monetized to more than $86.5 million over 30 years,” the N.C. Ports spokesperson said. “These benefits don’t include additional revenue the project would generate for the North Carolina State Ports Authority.”
While the authority was not able to quantify the number of jobs that will be created from the Wilmington expansion, it will be adding port workers, stevedores and longshoremen, river pilots, rail workers, federal agency workers and others.
The project was born from a 2018 Container Terminal Yard Improvement Planning study, with the key objective to grow the current terminal throughput capacity to accommodate a minimum 750,000 twenty-foot equivalent unit annually. TEU is an exact unit of measurement used to determine cargo capacity of containers, ships and terminals.
In total, the five-year infrastructure investment plan, instituted in 2021, required $250 million in support of the Wilmington expansion. The new intermodal facility will be the final infrastructure investment identified in the plan.
Recent investments have included the procurement of new neo-Panamax cranes, a new automated container gate, berth renovations and vessel navigation improvements. The upgrades have increased the container berth’s capacity to well over 1 million TEUs annually.
In April 2020, the authority completed a $14-million project for a refrigerated container yard at the Port of Wilmington. The location consolidated all refrigerated cargo into one area to help enhance the port’s efficiency when moving perishable goods.
The project boosted the terminal’s refrigerated container, or reefer, plugs from 235 to 775 with the ability to expand even further. That project will grow as well. Phase two envelops the addition of 26 four-high reefer racks, or power grids, for those refrigerated containers.
“[It] will add more than 700 refrigerated container plugs, bringing our total to over 1,500,” she said.
A viable facility will keep Wilmington competitive with ports like Charleston and Savannah, according to the spokesperson. A reliable freight system is good for the state’s economy as a whole; the Port of Wilmington generates $12.9 billion to the North Carolina’s economy annually.
N.C. Ports as a whole contributes $16.1B annually to North Carolina’s economy. This includes Port of Wilmington, Port of Morehead City and Charlotte Inland Port.
“N.C. Ports provides an optimal trade gateway that is closer to source and closer to demand, enhancing business competitiveness for cargo owners and transportation and logistics providers and providing technology that allows customers visibility into the supply chain,” she said.
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