More shippers aboard after $850 million expansion of Boston’s cargo terminal

The most recent Boston Harbor dredging project and expansion of the state’s main cargo terminal are According to the Massachusetts Port Authority, it’s already starting to pay off.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Conley Container Terminal was served by two shipping lines connecting Boston to seven ports. Starting later this fall, Conley will have six routes connecting 25 ports around the world.

Massport CEO Lisa Wieland attributes the dredging and expansion projects to the increased attractiveness of the terminal over nearly a decade with $850 million in funding from state, federal and port authorities.The Port Authority will host an event Friday at the South Boston Pier to highlight completion of the project. (The last dredging work was completed in June.)

Gov. Charlie Baker is expected to attend, along with members of the state’s congressional delegation and other political leaders, as well as Robert Kraft, whose international forest products company is seen as Conley’s biggest customer.

Among other changes, the projects have added three cranes to Conley and added depth to the port’s main channel to accommodate larger vessels. One of the larger ships in use by the Ocean Alliance consortium, the Ever Fortune, docked at the Conley on Thursday.

“Conley Pier is truly New England’s gateway to the world,” Wieland said. “We’ve seen an increase in global connectivity. It’s really exciting for New England importers and exporters.”

Just two years ago, two routes operated by MSC and Ocean Alliance served Boston, connecting Boston to Europe and China, respectively. Now, MSC will offer 3 routes, 1 to India and 1 to China. Shipping company ZIM now serves Southeast Asia, as does COSCO Shipping, whose ships will also call in the Middle East. Access to Southeast Asian ports has been a long-term goal for Massport.

Freight volumes at the terminal have yet to see significant growth. In 2019, in the first eight months of the year, more than 200,000 twenty-foot equivalent units (standard containers, also known as TEUs) were shipped through Boston. That number fell to about 142,500 TEUs in the first eight months of 2021 and to 99,000 by August of this year — numbers that reflect various supply chain disruptions largely caused by the pandemic. Shipping traffic in Boston was hit hard last winter when Ocean Alliance temporarily suspended calls to Boston due to congestion on East Coast container ships.

But Massport officials now believe those numbers will rise. Year-over-year sales in July and August have already improved compared to the same period in 2021.

“The pandemic has upended everything, [but] Now we’re on the other side, and those investments have just been made. . . the six services will be launched this fall, and we are starting to see volumes pick up,” Wieland said.

State Senator Nick Collins, whose district includes the Conley Terminal, said it was encouraging to see the port expansion attract so much interest from shipping lines.

“I think we’ll continue to see manufacturers and businesses in Massachusetts and New England exporting more and more diverse goods from the Boston coast to the world and vice versa,” said Collins, co-chair of the Legislature’s Joint and Capital Expenditure Committees. “It’s very important for both the local economy and the regional economy.”

Jon Chesto can be reached at him on twitter @jonchesto.

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