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Boston Harbor shipping terminal completed hunt for multi-year and multi-million investment to expand globally

The Massachusetts Port Authority completed a multi-year investment project for the Paul W. Conley Container Terminal at Boston Harbor, raising nearly $850 million for infrastructure improvements and global expansion.

Conley Container Terminal
The Paul W. Conley Container Terminal at Boston Harbor. The Massachusetts Port Authority raised nearly $850 million for their multi-year investment project for the terminal. MAGGIE WEN/DFP STAFF

Funding comes from a variety of sources including $217.5 million in federal funding and $350 million from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The terminal will directly connect to 18 new ports, including ones in Southeast Asia and Latin America, according to a Massport press release.

“None of these infrastructure improvements would have been possible without the leadership and support of our Federal, State, and local elected officials and the business community,” Massport CEO Lisa Wieland wrote in a Massport press release.

Charlie Cunnion, vice president of global transportation at the International Forest Products — the largest customer of the Conley Terminal and a partner with the terminal for over 13 years — noted the importance of the port’s expansion in the modern market.  

“Having a viable port that is attractive to all kinds of different steamship lines who are then servicing all the geographies around the world is almost table stakes now for us to even think about growing or maintaining our trades through New England,” Cunnion said.

One of the largest projects at the terminal that was completed was the deepening of the port, which is now 50 feet deep.

“There’s definitely been a call and an arms race among East Coast ports to all get to a depth that supports any of the vessels coming to the East Coast,” Cunnion said. “Anyone who doesn’t do that is really signing their warrant to make themselves irrelevant.”

With more ships able to travel in and out of the port along with future improvements in container size and technologies, the Boston Harbor may maintain competitiveness in the global marketplace.

“Boston, in the Massport announcement, is clearly indicating an intention to become a much larger receiver of major container shipping,” said Ted Landsmark, director of the Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy at Northeastern University.

The increase in automation has practically replaced human workers at the port itself, Landsmark said, but he said there is a new demand for employment in trucking and warehousing.

“Employment opportunities are shifting from port activity in and of itself into the distribution areas of the commodities that arrive on container ships,” Landsmark said. “Trucks and trains are still vital parts of how we get goods from our ports into local distribution centers in communities throughout the New England region.” 

COVID-19 disrupted aspects of the terminal’s flow, including supply chain delays and dwindling numbers of shipping containers passing through, Landsmark said.

“My belief is that the kinds of surpluses that many retailers are now experiencing in their warehousing will go down over the holiday season and into the first and second quarter of 2023,” Landsmark said. “I think that a deeper port will enable Boston and the region to take advantage of that shift back towards the purchase of goods as well as the purchase of services.”

The terminal began investing in expansion over five years ago according to Massport. 

“The reason for the celebration was, I think for a lot of people, and rightly so, to take a victory lap of what has been a years- and decades-long effort to ensure that the port remains viable for global commerce,” Cunnion said.


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