The Post-Panamax Era Has Arrived

Key Takeaways

  • The first post-Panamax ship travelled through the Panama Canal Expansion.
  • The Richland County Transportation Improvement Program (CTIP) will improve roads that are heavily trafficked and are key to the transportation of industrial goods through Columbia.
  • Strong prospect activity in the third quarter is expected to lead to more speculative development in 2017.

Bigger Port. Bigger Ships.

The Panama Canal Expansion is now open, allowing for larger and heavier post-Panamax ships to travel through the locks. The Panama Canal offers access to global markets, and the Port of Charleston is a big player in increasing accessibility through East Coast shipping routes. In September 2016, the Water Resources Development Act passed the U.S. House of Representatives, allowing the Charleston Harbor Deepening Project to move forward. The state has funded $300 million to the project and the South Carolina Port Authority says the project is on track to be completed by 2020. Once deepened, the entrance to the harbor will be 54 feet deep and the harbor 52 feet deep.

The Port of Charleston already has the deepest harbor on the East Coast, but can currently only accept post-Panamax ships during high tide. The deepening will allow these longer, wider and heavier ships to access the port around the clock. Charleston will be the only East Coast port able to accept calls from post-Panamax III ships carrying at full capacity (16,000 TEU).

Heavier cranes and stronger infrastructure are also being added to the Port of Charleston to accommodate the larger capacity of these new Panamax and post-Panamax ships, which can hold between 12,000 and 16,000 TEU compared to Panamax ships, which can hold up to 5,000 TEU. Other competing Eastern seaboard ports are following after the Port of Charleston to deepen their channels as well, but they will not be as deep upon completion or deliver before the Charleston Harbor Deepening Project.

To take full advantage of its competitive position, the Inland Port in Dillon is planned for a location 160 miles North of the Port of Charleston, off Interstate 95 near the North Carolina border. The port will ease traffic as well as accommodate the growing volume at the Port of Charleston by way of a Class 1 CSX rail line. The port is expected to begin construction in the first quarter of 2017 and be completed by the end of the year. The port will have a direct effect on activity and occupancy in the northeast portion of the state, referred to as the Pee Dee area. Expansion of the Panama Canal, the deepening of the Port of Charleston and the planned Inland Port in Dillon will effectively draw in new investors to the region.

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