Port of Miami director wants to make Miami No. 1 in international trade

Port of Miami wants $40 million for 4 cranes

MIAMI – Port of Miami officials plan to ask Miami-Dade County Wednesday to approve a $40 million contract to buy four cranes.

These aren't ordinary cranes—they are what's called Super Post-Panamax Cranes, and are the largest in the world. They are able to process wider loads.

Miami currently has two of them and the reason Port Director Bill Johnson said he wants four more is because of what's happening in the Panama Canal. The South American country is currently undertaking a more than $5 billion expansion project. Once complete, larger ships carrying more containers will be able to pass through the canal.

As the first port north of Panama, Miami is working to capture that increased cargo. Johnson says the financial impact to the local economy will nearly double and job opportunities will be the result.

But to pull it off, the Port of Miami says it needs the additional super cranes and to dredge from 42 feet to 50 feet—the same depth as the Panama Canal.

Johnson said the Port of Miami is the only port south of Norfolk, Va. to have congressional approval to dredge to 50 feet.

The Panama Canal's expansion project includes deepening the channel to 50 feet; this is in part why they will be able to process larger ships once complete.

If the Port of Miami matches that depth, the ships can then coast right on up to Miami. It's one thing to receive the cargo, the other element is then move those extra goods off port; the Super Post-Panamax Cranes would then be critical to getting the cargo off.

That's where the Port of Miami Tunnel project kicks in.

"Harriet," the nickname for the tunnel boring machine that will drill that tunnel, will blast into the soil on Thursday.

The Port is also looking to build a rail system that would connect to the rail yard in Hialeah.

The tunnel and the rail system would help connect the Port to the country so cargo can quickly be dispatched nationwide.

All together they represent an effort to stay competitive and to position Miami as the distribution center for big-box retailers like Walmart and Target. The hope is the bananas you eat in Chicago will have been processed through the Port of Miami.

Johnson says with the rail system in place they can move goods from Miami to nearly anywhere in the United States between one to four days.

Johnson's aim to make the Port of Miami No. 1 in America for International Trade is ambitious. He said that right now 20 percent of America's GDP is based on international trade but that in 20-25 years that is expected to double to 45 percent. His job is making sure Miami captures as much of that business as it can.

The goal is to finish all projects by 2014 to coincide with the completion of the Panama Canal expansion.