Baltimore readies for increased Panama Canal commerce

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When supersized container ships start coming through the expanded Panama Canal in 2015, Baltimore will be one of the few ports on the East Coast ready for their business.

Baltimore has added four new giant $40 million cranes to accommodate the supersize ships, according to The New York Times.

It will be a “major win” for Baltimore, Maryland Port Administration executive director James J. White told the newspaper.

This sense that the new set of locks being built to allow giant ships through the canal will bring riches 1,000 miles or more to the north is shared by industry and government officials along the East Coast and the Gulf of Mexico, who have been promoting multimillion-dollar and, in some cases, multibillion-dollar port projects for years.

The Obama administration has moved to speed the review process for developing and deepening the harbors for several of these ports, including those of New York and New Jersey; Charleston, S.C.; Savannah, Ga.; Jacksonville, Fla.; and Miami.

The initiative “will help drive job growth and strengthen the economy,” President Obama said in announcing it last month.

But some who are following the efforts have begun to express skepticism about the hope and money going into dredging mud and raising steel. With so many ports competing for a share of the bounty, experts are questioning how big that bounty will be.

The big ships — known as “Post-Panamax” and even “Super-Post-Panamax” — are already in heavy use worldwide, making up 16 percent of the container fleet but accounting for 45 percent of its capacity, according to a July report by the Army Corps of Engineers. Those numbers are projected to grow significantly during the next 20 years and the race to accommodate such vessels is on, according to the newspaper.

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