Gov. Wolf announces $292 million for Port of Philadelphia to expand container capacity

Governor Tom Wolf announced plans to double container capacity at the Port of Philadelphia via a $292 million capital investment from Harrisburg, promising 2,250 new jobs.

The announcement comes just weeks before the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority said it would select a private company to develop its Southport facility next to the Navy Yard. With the governor’s announcement, that development process is off, said Wolf spokesman Mark Nicastre.

“This investment in the port is in lieu of the Southport RFP [Request For Proposals]. We determined that making this investment now is the fastest way to create capacity throughout the entire port, while maintaining the automobile business in Southport and growing the container business in other areas of the port,” said Nicastre.

That brought cheers from environmentalists who protested a proposal from Philadelphia Energy Solutions (PES) to build a import/export facility for oil as part of a larger “energy hub” in the region.

“I’m very pleased that PRPA board has listened to the voice of the people most directly affected,” said Peter Winslow, a board member with Pennsylvania Interfaith Power and Light and leader of the Southport Working Group for Green Justice Philly. “We look forward to ongoing dialogue in a collegial and collaborative effort to bring permanent family sustaining jobs at the port… and to do so in a way that protects the environment and health of the people.”

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that PES recently dropped out of the bidding process, as did most of the other bidders. PES did not respond to PlanPhilly’s request for comment.

In a follow-up email Nicastre told PlanPhilly that the decision to abandon the RFP process was because of a lack of “a comprehensive plan to grow the entire port.” Without that, he said, Philadelphia would lose competition with other ports and risked losing its automobile business. “With this plan, we can grow the container business and maintain the automobile business, negating the need for an RFP to focus Southport on a new mission.”

“This is real good news. You know what kind of jobs these are? These are family-sustaining jobs,” said Congressman Bob Brady. Brady was instrumental in realizing federal support for dredging the Delaware River’s shipping channel to enable the Port of Philadelphia to receive larger container ships. 

Currently, the Port of Philadelphia directly employs 3,124 workers. The Governor’s announcement predicts a 70 percent increase to that total, and a jump from 10,341 to 17,020 in total employment, which includes jobs indirectly related to port operations. The announcement also predicts a jump in state and local taxes from $69.6 million a year to 108.4 million.

According to Wolf’s announcement, the investment should increase the Port of Philadelphia’s shipping container capacity by 86 percent by 2020. The announcement also estimates breakbulk capacity will grow 21 percent and automotive capacity will go up 166 percent. Already, Kia Motors has a large auto processing facility at the Southport site. Nicastre said construction should begin early next year.

The Packer Avenue Marine Terminal is slated to get around $200 million of the capital funding to add four new electric container cranes, relocate warehouses, and build a 45-foot berths at the terminal to match the new depths of the recently dredged Delaware River. The PRPA estimates that the improvement should increase container-handling capacity from 400,000 Twenty-foot Equivalent Unit (TEU) containers a year to 900,000 immediately and 1.2 million in time.

The Tioga Marine Terminal and the Port’s automobile import/export facility at Southport will receive the remaining $92 million in state funds, mainly to improve warehouse facilities and expand the size of the automobile-handling operation.

According to Wolf’s announcement, the deal will total over $300 million when related private investment is included.

Harrisburg will pay for the capital improvements with general obligation bonds, said Nicastre.

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