By Debra Davis
The historic Port of Mobile has influenced the culture and economy of Alabama and the Gulf Coast for over 300 years. An expansion set for completion by early 2025 will carve an even wider path of success for the area.
“Taking our channel to 50 feet deep (from its current 45 feet) allows some of the world’s largest ships to enter our port,” said Alabama State Port Authority’s John C. Driscoll. “Larger ships provide capacity and economy of scale for Alabama businesses and drive down costs.”
Dubbed the Alabama Seaport Modernization Program, the $365.7 million expansion project will deepen and widen the port.
Driscoll, the port authority’s director and chief executive officer, said the expansion will transform the port into a globally competitive trade center.
“More than 3 billion people are rising into the consumer class and seeking American products,” he said. “Alabama agriculture and other businesses will be in a position to take advantage of those growing markets through the port’s expansion. Investments in construction and technology at the harbor allow more goods to be moved faster and efficiently, increasing the port’s opportunity for more customers.”
Alabama’s deep-water seaport has business connections to all 67 counties in Alabama, Driscoll said. The port authority’s terminals handle a variety of commodities including forestry products, grains, feed, cotton and proteins — mostly poultry and peanuts. Private terminals at the port handle fertilizers and chemicals. Alabama’s booming coal, aviation, automobile and retail distribution industries also play a pivotal role at the port.
The port received approval of the project to widen and deepen the harbor in September 2019. In February 2020, U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., a decade-long champion of the project, secured $377.7 million in federal funding for regional dredge demonstration programs in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. This program assures the harbor expansion receives its full $274.3 million to construct the project.
In Alabama, Gov. Kay Ivey and the Legislature secured Alabama’s financial obligation for the project through the Rebuild Alabama Act, which passed in March 2019. The act allocates a portion of state fuel tax proceeds to support approximately $150 million in bonds to meet the non-federal cost-share requirements for the project.
Alabama Farmers Federation President Jimmy Parnell praised Shelby and Ivey for their leadership, vision and hard work in securing funding for the port expansion.
“Sen. Shelby and Gov. Ivey recognize our state and nation’s economy are greatly enhanced through market expansion and world trade,” Parnell said. “Agriculture, as well as other businesses and manufacturers, will be more competitive globally because of the Port of Mobile. This expansion increases our competitive advantage.”
Deepening the channel was preceded by nearly $1.3 billion in public seaport infrastructure at Alabama’s only deep-water port. Part of that overall investment included $550 million in container intermodal investments that offered a new gateway for agribusiness shippers and ocean carriers.
The container intermodal complex first opened in 2008 and completed its third expansion in early 2020.
The $50 million Phase III program extended the dock to accommodate two of the larger Post-Panamax ships and expanded throughput by 25%, bringing the terminal’s annual capacity to 650,000 TEUs (20-foot equivalent units).
Additional phases are planned that can deliver 1.5 million TEUs annual throughput capacity. The port authority and its partner, APM Terminals, have been successful in delivering investments that meet shipper demand.
Also last year, MTC Logistics announced construction of the largest cold storage facility of its kind in the Southeast. The $61-million project, when completed in April 2021, will encompass 12 million cubic feet and expand blast freeze capability for poultry exports.
Located outside the container terminal’s gates, the facility will accommodate 30 truckloads per day and provide 40,000 racked pallet positions of storage to meet demand for refrigerated cargo shippers.
Additionally, the facility is expected to attract new shippers, which can provide back haul opportunities for carriers.