Large container ships which account for most of the trade volume have not been able to pass through the Panama Canal. Therefore, freight has been unloaded on the west coast and then transported over land to the east coast
Due to open in 2014, the widened canal is expected to dramatically change the routing of cargo to and from the United States. The widening of the Panama Canal and the continuing progress in the gloabalization of freight will have a tremendous impact on Florida and the Tampa Bay area. According to industry experts the principle ports that will benefit from the Panama Canal widening are ports in the East Coast, beginning with New York, New Jersey, coming down to Hampton Roads, Savannah, Charleston, ports in Florida and the Gulf Bay. The region is witnessing an explosion of terminal, warehouse, and intermodal facility construction. Studies suggest ports along the Southeast Atlantic coast stand to gain the most from the widening of the Panama Canal, and that ports along the Gulf will probably be competing for something like 20 percent of the new volume
Port Manatee, the closest U.S. port to the Canal, is in the preliminary stages of a $50 million expansion to extend berth capacity and container storage space. The project includes dredging the navigation channel to accommodate larger ships. Within the next 10 to 15 years, the port plans to develop an expanse on its north side as a draw for additional container shipments.
In addition, last year, the Manatee County Port Authority and Manatee County government worked together to create the Port Manatee Encouragement Zone, a 3,700-acre tract of privately held land that now qualifies for reduced or waived impact fees and other incentives for businesses looking to conduct port-related activities.
The Port of Tampa has also been preparing to wade into the competition for Canal-borne cargo. Four years ago, for instance, the port constructed a new container terminal and purchased three post-Panamax cranes.
This year, one of the largest federal stimulus package-related projects in the Tampa area is directly intended to enhance the port’s operations.
More than $105 million in stimulus funding will pay to build a highway connection between the Port of Tampa, Interstate 4, and the Crosstown Expressway through the City of Tampa. Timed to coincide with the opening of the expanded canal, the new highway will improve container flow through metro Tampa, by allowing port traffic to bypass surface roads through Ybor city, a popular, an often congested tourism mecca.
With the widening of the Panama canal more freight from Asia will therefore come to Florida. However, there will also be increased trade with Panama itself due to legislation reducing import tariffs from Panama and Columbia that go into effect in 2011. Two vessels already connect Tampa and Panama directly, although there is not yet a direct connection to Columbia. This increase in trade will help foster job creation which will benefit commercial property in Tampa Bay