Tacoma Harbor Navigation Improvement Study

vessel size edit

Vessel size progression

To remain competitive in the shipping industry, the Tacoma Harbor has made major investments through the years, including improving our docks, purchasing larger cranes, and making other terminal improvements. The last piece of this effort is to deepen the Blair Waterway to allow the ultra-large container ships to come and go unfettered. The project proposes to deepen the federal channel in the Blair Waterway to -57 feet mean lower low water (MLLW).

The shipping industry is rapidly increasing the size of ships to realize savings through economies of scale. These ships can carry more containers, lowering the unit cost per container when factoring in the costs of assets, labor, and fuel. Smaller, less efficient ships are leaving the market and being scrapped. Almost all the new ships being built are larger than 10,000 twenty-foot equivalent units. The industry is also consolidating into fewer, larger shipping lines. Ports in North America are investing in infrastructure to handle these ships efficiently, and the evolution of ship size is likely to mean consolidation of the industry to fewer, larger terminals.

Because the Pacific Northwest is rich in export cargo like seafood, agricultural and forest products, which are very heavy, ships need to be able to arrive and depart our port at their fully laden draft. If ships are restricted in movement by depth, they must either depart without a full payload of cargo or wait on the tide for enough water. These measures create financial and operational impacts through less efficient ships and terminal operations. The economics of less efficient ships could mean our gateway loses future business to those ports with water depth to handle them.

The Port of Tacoma is partnering with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to study potential solutions to this problem. The Tacoma Harbor Navigation Improvement Study will look at different dredging options, including no action, to determine the best outcome, keep the Port competitive in the global market, and ensure any action taken is in the best interest of the U.S. taxpayer.

East Commencement Habitat Opportunity (ECHO)

  • The Port has desired to build the ECHO mitigation/restoration site since the early 2000s
  • This site is one of the last best places in Commencement Bay for nearshore restoration
  • Challenge: lack of material
  • Solution: beneficially using clean dredge material from the Tacoma Harbor Deepening project to build the restoration site
  • Result: essential intertidal, shallow subtidal and riparian habitat currently lacking in Commencement Bay

This 40-plus acre site is one of the last best places in Commencement Bay for nearshore restoration.

The area currently provides little support for salmonid migration and other wildlife that depend on shallower nearshore habitat. The problem has always been a lack of material to build the site.

The Port is working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to study the feasibility of beneficially using clean dredge material from the Blair Waterway Deepening Project project to build the site.