“How much do we really want to play in this game? How much do we want to use this land for container shipping versus other uses?”

Puget Sound ports facing challenges

The U.S. economic slowdown has cut the demand for Asian imports, reducing container traffic, and competition from other West Coast ports is heating up.

By Drew DeSilver
Seattle Times business reporter

Like one grazing brontosaur after another, the giant cranes lined up at the ports of Seattle and Tacoma to pluck multicolored shipping containers from massive cargo ships. The steel containers, filled with everything from electronic gadgets to running shoes, are as likely to travel to Chicago as Chehalis; once they’re gone, hundreds more sitting in nearby yards will be loaded and shipped the other way, to Asia.

By year’s end, nearly 4 million TEUs of cargo will have moved through the ports of Seattle and Tacoma. (TEU stands for 20-foot-equivalent unit, a standard measurement of containerized cargo; one TEU can hold 43,500 apples, 8,928 frozen chickens or 616 Christmas trees.)

Together — which is how people in the shipping business often think of them — the two Puget Sound ports are the third-largest container center in North America, and the second-largest on the West Coast.

But the activity is deceiving. The two ports face both immediate and longer-term threats to their plum positions in West Coast shipping — and to the thousands of well-paying jobs each port directly and indirectly supports.


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