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East and West Coast Ports to Battle for U.S. Region After Panama Canal Expansion

East and West Coast Ports to Battle for U.S. Region After Panama Canal Expansion.Transportfolio

Editor’s note: This post originally ran in October 2015. Since the Panama Canal is scheduled to open this Sunday, June 26, we wanted to share it with you again.

Port ImageYou might think that shippers along the East Coast will be the biggest beneficiaries of fierce competition between the East and West Coast ports. In fact, the battleground on which ports compete for customers will likely expand and move several hundred miles west, toward Chicago and Memphis. It will take in other metropolitan areas like Detroit and Columbus, and encompass a newly contested region that accounts for more than 15% of the U.S. GDP.

In this area, shippers will often be able to route containers through East Coast ports to inland destinations at costs that are either lower or comparable to the costs they would incur by using West Coast ports. Of course, cost isn’t the only factor—overall shipping time, flexibility, and reliability matter, too.

Which ports stand to gain and lose the most in this scenario?

Battleground Infographic


  • New York-New Jersey port and the southeastern ports of Norfolk, Savannah, and Charleston. These ports are located relatively close to the battleground region and near rail routes to major markets. They stand to see the greatest advantage from the Panama Canal expansion.
  • Houston and New Orleans-Gulfport. While not major container ports today, both are likely to grow as they upgrade and are able to serve the fast-growing greater Gulf Coast region.

Neutral or Unclear:

  • Baltimore, Miami, and other East Coast ports. These ports will probably see similar traffic levels to those before canal expansion. They serve regional markets and are unlikely to receive large volumes of cargo headed to the battleground region.
  • Oakland and the Seattle-Tacoma ports on the West Coast. Both of these clusters have strong local markets. Seattle-Tacoma is generally the best complex to serve the Pacific Northwest, playing a unique role in providing access to the upper Midwest via rail.


  • Los Angeles-Long Beach. This complex is well positioned to handle traffic to major population centers and will always be the fastest option for reaching a large share of the U.S., but the recent labor dispute here may motivate shippers to reduce their dependence on the West Coast.

These observations were made in the white paper by Boston Consulting Group and C.H. Robinson, Wide Open: How the Panama Canal Expansion is Redrawing the Logistics Map. Read the more in depth version of the results for the caveats upon which the results reported here were based.

Authors include:
Steve Raetz from C.H. Robinson and Jennifer Bratton, Dustin Burke and Peter Ulrich from BCG.

*Source: Boston Consulting Group.