Tacoma, Seattle Ports Ink Deals for Navigation Improvement Projects

December 13, 2023

(Photo; The Northwest Seaport Alliance)
(Photo; The Northwest Seaport Alliance)

Pacific Northwest seaports Seattle and Tacoma have signed design agreements with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) for a pair of waterway navigation improvement projects.

The Seattle Navigation Improvement Project, authorized by Congress in 2018, and the Tacoma Harbor Navigation Improvement Project, authorized in 2022, are part of a comprehensive modernization initiative for The Northwest Seaport Alliance (NWSA) gateway that began nearly a decade ago.

Containerships navigating in the trans-Pacific trade are increasing in size, now regularly accommodating 12,000 to 15,000 20-foot equivalent units (TEU). The industry's trajectory towards ships carrying 18,000-plus TEUs necessitates enhancing port infrastructure to maintain competitiveness in global shipping trade.

To address these evolving needs, the Port of Tacoma, Port of Seattle, and the NWSA have worked alongside the USACE to complete integrated feasibility studies and environmental assessments. The results indicated that deepening both the Blair Waterway in Tacoma and the West Waterway in Seattle would significantly enhance the competitiveness of the gateway, enabling the waterways to meet the heightened draft requirements of larger ships and ensuring they can continue to support international trade and trade-dependent jobs across our region.

“The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is proud to partner with The Port of Tacoma and The Port of Seattle in making these projects a reality,” said USACE-Seattle District commander Col. Kathryn Sanborn. “I look forward to our continuing partnerships as work through the design phase and beyond, helping Pacific Northwest commerce, which will have a positive impact to the region and nation.”

Port of Tacoma Blair Waterway Deepening
The Port of Tacoma executed a design agreement with the USACE for navigation improvements in the Blair Waterway on December 12, 2023.

The project's scope includes the design of the Blair Waterway navigation channel deepening along with minor footprint modifications to facilitate larger vessel transit, sediment characterization, ship simulation, and the further consideration of the beneficial use of dredged material at the East Commencement Habitat Opportunity (formerly Saltchuk) area.

“This deepening project fits into our comprehensive work to modernize the Blair Waterway which has included the Husky Terminal Modernization project, crane raising at Pierce County Terminal and new Super Post-Panamax cranes located at Husky and Washington United Terminals. The Port of Tacoma and The Northwest Seaport Alliance are committed to ensuring our facilities remain competitive and can accommodate the largest and most advanced ships in the trans-Pacific trade,” stated Port of Tacoma Commission President and NWSA Co-Chair Deanna Keller.

Port of Seattle West Waterway Deepening
On September 14, 2023, the Port of Seattle executed a design agreement with the USACE for the West Waterway Channel Deepening Project. This project aims to deepen the navigation channel to -57’ mean lower low water (MLLW) to keep the Seattle Harbor fully accessible to deep-draft vessels.

The project’s scope includes sediment characterization, engineering, and preparing of plans and specifications for construction.

“The West Waterway Channel Deepening Project is critical to the future competitiveness of our gateway and driving economic activity across our region. We’ve made significant investments in the modernization of Terminal 5, including strengthening the berths and adding six new Super Post-Panamax cranes alongside our terminal partners. The deepening ensures that ultra-large vessels have unrestricted access when calling Terminal 5 and that cargo and job opportunities remain strong in our harbor for decades to come” stated Port of Seattle Commission President and NWSA Co-Chair Sam Cho.

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