The big picture: The Port of New York and New Jersey became the busiest US port by container import volumes in late 2022 thanks to new services and cargo diversions stemming from congestion and longshore labor negotiations on the West Coast. That growth was accompanied by persistent container and vessel backlogs and truck congestion, but the port authority enacted fees and other measures to deal with the volume growth, which is expected to taper off in 2023.
look back: From August through October, New York and New Jersey handled more containerized cargo than any other port in the country, thanks to new trans-Pacific vessel services and uncertainties over a new West Coast longshore labor contract. New York and New Jersey added 10 new vessel services in 2022, seven of which originate in China, Southeast Asia, or the Indian subcontinent. In addition, ocean carriers dispatched about 70 “extra-loader” ships not on regular schedules to the port in in the first nine months of the year. But the surge of containers crowded New York–New Jersey’s marine terminals as limited warehouse, chassis, and truck capacity left shippers with little choice but to let some freight dwell at the port, resulting in an intermittent backlog of as many as 30 ships waiting for a berth on some days. The region also ended up with a massive excess of empty containers that further crimped truck and terminal productivity. By November, however, slower volume growth had seen the backlog of ships at anchor fall to just two vessels, the lowest since November 2021. Prompted by a new fee at the port and a request from the US Federal Maritime Commission, ocean carriers have also been more actively evacuating empties from the port, sending in about 30 ships for the express purpose of sweeping empties through September.
A look ahead: The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ) estimates the port’s overall throughput reached 9.6 million TEU in 2022, a level of volume that was not expected for at least another five years. As shippers work down excess inventory and retail spending returns to something more closely resembling pre-pandemic levels, volumes through New York–New Jersey are forecast to fall 11 percent in 2023. Maher Terminals has added three new super-post-Panamax cranes to an existing berth that are expected to be in service some time in 2023, while GCT Bayonne will add a new berth and cranes for super-post-Panamax ships by 2025 and Port Newark Container Terminal is studying adjacent land to add capacity. The first bids for a $100 million project to improve a three-mile truck corridor through the port are also expected to be submitted by next year, and PANYNJ is moving forward with a study on additional rail track extending from the port that will reduce delays for intermodal service, but there is no timeline at present for when those projects will be completed.
The new normal: PANYNJ undertook several measures to maintain terminal flow in 2022, including imposing a new $100 fee for long-dwelling empty containers that will take effect in 2023. The fee has already encouraged ocean carriers to remove 30,000 of the estimated 200,000 empty containers that had accumulated in the region during 2022. Maher Terminals, the port’s largest, will continue to exclude weekends from the free-time period allowed for import containers in a bid to prompt more Saturday gate usage. Maher and other terminals will also likely continue to require that the return of an empty container be matched with the retrieval of an import.