In normal times, the Port Everglades webcam constitutes a veritable, high-definition stream of activity. At any one time, viewers can be guaranteed a glimpse of huge cruise ships and tankers occupying berths and drifting down its navigation channels.

As the world’s third-largest cruise terminal, it is estimated that around 4,000 ships call at the port each year, generating more than $32bn in economic activity and providing 219,000 jobs in and around Fort Lauderdale and South Florida.

But thanks to Covid-19, shipping activity at Port Everglades has been markedly quieter this year. With the cruise industry having ground to a halt, regular visitors such as Royal Caribbean International and Carnival Cruise Line have not dropped anchor in months.

Cargo activity – usually around 25 million tonnes a year – has also tailed off, impacting negatively on its bottom line, meaning the port is unlikely to come close to the operating revenues of $170.7m it achieved in 2019.

Such setbacks, though, have not deterred the government of Broward County – Port Everglades’ owner – from pushing ahead with a new $1.6bn infrastructure improvement programme. As port deputy director Glenn Wiltshire announced in May: “Port Everglades has budgeted for several sizeable construction projects that are moving forward at a rapid pace with little disruption from the virus.”

So, what are these expansion projects set to be implemented over the next five years?

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Containerised cargo and widened channels

Front and centre of all of this is a $471m berth expansion – the largest infrastructure project in the port’s 92-year history. This will see new cargo berths added by extending the port’s existing turn-around area from 900ft to 2,400ft, as well as the installation of crane rail infrastructure for three new super post-Panamax cranes, able to accommodate up to 22 container units in width.

“In February, it was also announced that the port had received $29.1m in federal funding.”

Reported to be the largest low-profile container gantry cranes ever built, these $41m super post-Panamax structures are currently being manufactured in China, and will be in service by the end of this year, said Port Everglades in a recent press release. 

In February, it was also announced that the port had received $29.1m in federal funding as part of efforts to deepen and widen its harbour. Awarded by the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) under its Fiscal Year 2020 Work Plan, the money will be used to deepen Everglades’ navigation channels from 42ft to 48ft-50ft.

The same funds are set to be used to build a new facility at US Coast Guard Station Fort Lauderdale, which will allow the Intracoastal Waterway, a key shipping passage, to be widened by 250ft. This will help to alleviate a chokepoint in the channel for large Neo-Panamax bulk carriers which currently struggle to navigate around docked cruise vessels.

Cruise parking garage and logistics centre

By the end of this year, Port Everglades is aiming to have a new parking garage up and running. Serving two cruise terminals, the 1,818-space garage – currently under construction – will include an air-conditioned bridge, as well as moving walkways for passengers. 

“The centre will include a refrigerated warehouse, office space and cross-docking facilities.”

As part of a public-private partnership with US commercial real estate developer CenterPoint Properties, Everglades will also soon be home to be a new logistics centre. Made up of two separate facilities (covering 151,000ft² and 145,000ft², respectively), the centre will include a refrigerated warehouse, office space and cross-docking facilities. A section of the centre will also operate as a foreign trade zone.

In a YouTube video posted on 14 May by CenterPoint Properties, the developer said it was “making progress” on the two facilities, with crews having already “completed the tilt-up walls and steel erection” at the northernmost property. Construction on the 145,000ft² site next door was also described as “keeping pace”.

Full steam ahead for expansion

With petroleum accounting for roughly a fifth of its total revenue, Port Everglades is also keen to move ahead with slip improvements, which will allow larger tankers to dock and offload more efficiently. According to Broward County, the project will create “measurable efficiencies and economies of scale”. Elsewhere, it is set to invest $90m-$100m in seawall, fenders, mooring bollard and roadway, “extending the facility’s life by up to 75 years”.

“Florida has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.”

The port’s expansion has its roots in a capital improvement “master/vision” plan adopted 12 years ago, which is updated every two to five years in line with market trends, new technologies and environmental initiatives. As a self-supporting enterprise fund of Broward County, Port Everglades is also not reliant on local taxpayers to maintain its operations.

This is just as well. Florida has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, its all-important tourism industry just about surviving when it should be thriving. In June, the Sunshine State suffered the added pain of being forced to reverse its reopening of business, following a recent spike in new cases of Covid-19. On the holiday weekend of 4 July, confirmed cases rose by a record 11,458, according to the state’s health department. 

But this has not derailed plans at Port Everglades, it would appear. 

“All projects are full steam ahead,” said port spokesperson Ellen Kennedy in an email.