Jaxport Juggles Parking to Accommodate Ro-Ro Business
Jaxport, the port of Jacksonville, Florida, is expanding its ro-ro facilities at its Dames Point Marine Terminal in order to relieve pressure on its Blount Island ro-ro wharves. In order to make room for all the new cars, it will be shifting the parking for its cruise ship business.
This fiscal year, the port moved nearly 700,000 vehicle units for three auto processors and 13 ro-ro carrier lines, enough volume to make it the nation's second-largest ro-ro port. The business is driven in large part by the port's proximity to the fastest-growing market for new cars in the United States. “We’re slammed with automobiles at Blount Island,” Jaxport CEO Eric Green said at a recent board meeting.
To accommodate all the new cars, the port needs lots of parking, and it will soon begin construction on a multi-phase expansion at Dames Point that will increase its vehicle-handling capacity by 25 percent. To make room, the port will move cruise passenger parking to a new, $6.5 million lot beginning next fall.
The port's cruise business continues unabated and the realignment should not have an effect on passenger volumes. A newly renovated vessel, the 2,000-passenger Carnival Ecstasy, will take over the Carnival Elation’s four- and five-day cruises beginning in 2019. Carnival is the only cruise operator offering year-round departures from Jacksonville, and it serves about 170,000 passengers a year.
Activists seek to block dredging
Jaxport has long sought to dredge its channel on the St. Johns River to 47 feet, which the port says is necessary to accommodate larger container ships that are increasingly calling at U.S. East Coast ports. However, local activist group St. Johns Riverkeeper contends that the dredging could increase the risk of flooding along the riverbanks. In the wake of Hurricane Irma, which led to storm surge flooding in the region, the Army Corps of Engineers said that it would consider performing a second, supplemental environmental impact statement for the dredging project to review any potential impacts on storm surge vulnerability.
The Corps has not yet determined whether to conduct this supplemental study, and a contractor is expected to begin dredging on Friday. The first $23 million contract would provide for dredging the first three miles of the port's channel at the mouth of the river, and it would run through August 2019. St. Johns Riverkeeper has filed for a preliminary injunction to delay the start of work.
Jaxport says that the $480 million dredging project is essential to attract the largest container ships operating in the East Asia-USEC trade. The port has averaged over 20 percent annual growth in Asian container volumes during the past five years, and it is served by the largest international shipping alliances. “The Jacksonville Harbor Deepening project is the single biggest opportunity to grow our port and reach our potential as a major gateway for international trade,” said Jaxport chairman Jim Citrano in a statement in June.