Port Competitiveness Study reveals Canadian federal investments more than double U.S. West Coast ports funding

Port Funding Study Ports

A recent study commissioned by ports in Washington and California reveals that Canadian ports have received more than double the federal funding levels compared to U.S. West Coast ports. An increase in U.S. port infrastructure funding is needed to strengthen U.S. ports’ competitiveness along the West Coast.

SEATTLE + TACOMA – Current federal levels of investment in infrastructure are insufficient to build the freight system our nation needs today and in the coming decades.  Improving the efficiency of existing infrastructure requires strategic investments that enable ports to handle current volumes and grow capacity to remain competitive with ports in British Columbia.

From 2016-2020, B.C. ports received US $372 million in Direct Port project funding compared with US $45 million for Washington State ports and US $179 million for California ports. This funding differential leads to a competitive disadvantage for U.S. west coast ports.

Beyond port-specific projects, the road and rail infrastructure that supports the efficient movement of goods throughout the supply chain are also receiving significantly fewer federal dollars than B.C. investments. The study reports that from 2005-2020 federal contributions to port-related projects total US $1.332 billion in B.C. compared to US $457 million for Washington projects. These dollars support critical infrastructure such as road, rail, highway and bridge improvements.

“The Northwest Seaport Alliance has worked diligently to remain competitive despite inequitable distributions of the Harbor Maintenance Tax and growing competition with B.C. ports. The Canadian government has made their British Columbia ports a national priority and unfortunately U.S. west coast ports have seen market share slowly shift north to Canada,” stated NWSA Co-Chair and Port of Tacoma Commissioner President Dick Marzano. “More infrastructure funding from the U.S. federal government means that we can move more cargo and support more family-wage jobs across our region.”

U.S. west coast ports compete directly with ports in Canada such as Prince Rupert and the Vancouver-Fraser Port Authority for cargo volumes in the Transpacific trade. As the Northwest Seaport Alliance, Port of Long Beach, and other ports in California aim to maximize U.S. trade opportunities, accessing federal and non-federal funds for port-related investments is a fundamental challenge.  

Key takeaways from the study include:

  • Ports in British Columbia have successfully competed against Washington and California ports for container traffic.
  • Canada has treated West Coast Ports as a national priority.
  • Canadian federal contributions to B.C. port projects have substantially exceeded U.S. grants to Washington and California ports over the past five years.

"The important role seaports play in the nation's economy has never been more visible than it is today, during the global pandemic," said Port of Long Beach Executive Director Mario Cordero. "The ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles, known as the San Pedro Bay port complex, handle 40% of the nation's container cargo imports. The West Coast is the gateway to Asia and the country's most prominent trade partners. A more equitable distribution of federal funding would make all our operations faster and more efficient, with tremendous benefits up and down the supply chain."

Beyond funding levels, the study identifies recommendations to increase U.S. West Coast port competitiveness including prioritizing investments to accommodate larger container vessels, upgrading landside infrastructure such as roads, rails, and bridges, and investing to improve the environmental sustainability of port operations.

“The Northwest Seaport Alliance is making strategic investments in infrastructure to increase the efficiency of Seattle and Tacoma ports and remain competitive, but we can’t do it alone,” stated NWSA Co-Chair and Port of Seattle Commissioner President Fred Felleman. “Investments in port infrastructure not only benefit our economy but also reduce impacts on our neighboring port communities and the environment. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the Build Back Better Act fully recognize these benefits.”

Ports play an integral role in the health of the U.S. economy. By facilitating import goods for businesses and providing a gateway to international markets for exports, ports support our nation’s GDP and create millions of family-wage jobs across the country. The Northwest Seaport Alliance is committed to maintain a thriving gateway for U.S. trade in the Pacific Northwest and is making substantial investments to modernize our marine terminals and improve freight mobility through our port. The NWSA is implementing many of the study’s recommendations including modernizing Terminal 5 to handle larger container ships, partnering with local governments to advocate for improved landside infrastructure, and investing in zero-emission cargo handling equipment in the gateway.

View the Port Infrastructure Funding Study

View Appendix