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Tampa port lands $20 million grant to expand container berth

The grant will accelerate work on a $55 million project to expand the Port Tampa Bay’s container capacity by 60 percent.

TAMPA — The U.S. Department of Transportation this week awarded Port Tampa Bay a $19.8 million grant to help expand its shipping container operations by 60 percent.

The grant allows the port to move up a $55 million project to build a new 1,300-foot-long berth and a 30-acre container yard at Berth 214. When complete, the berth will be able to handle more deep-draft vessels with direct rail and trucking connections.

“It will efficiently move cargo that arrives by ship to road or rail,” Port Tampa Bay chief executive officer Paul Anderson said Tuesday. That, in turn, is expected to help the port handle goods destined for more than 300 distribution centers and a market of 10 million consumers along the Interstate 4 corridor.

The port’s container business has grown, thanks both to its $24 million investment four years ago in two 300-foot-tall gantry cranes to handle larger ships moving through an expanded Panama Canal and to its more recent success in recruiting three shipping lines to begin sending weekly container ships from Asia to Tampa.

Related: Port Tampa Bay lands third weekly container ship service from Asia

Through the end of May, the port had seen 86,173 containers come across its docks so far this fiscal year. That’s up from 66,275 at the same point last year and 31,321 in May 2016.

In addition to the federal grant, the port plans to use $19.8 million of its own funds and nearly $15.3 million in Florida Department of Transportation funds to complete the project.

Construction is expected to begin within 18 months and take 30 to 36 months to complete. Port officials say the expanded terminal will be safer and more efficient, creating an environment that will save shippers on each container shipped and produce less vehicle emissions.

The new berth is expected to generate an estimated $137 million a year in additional business revenues to terminal operators, warehouses, truckers and rail companies, as well as in local purchases and local purchases and local taxes paid.

“We’re very excited,” Anderson said. “It will create over 555 jobs direct (at the port) and over 1,500 indirect as this project starts moving forward.”