Vice President Biden says Baltimore's port needs new CSX facility

Vice President Joe Biden visits the Panama Canal Miraflores Expansion Site with (from left) Senator Johnny Isakson, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, and Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx, in Panama City, Panama, November 19, 2013. (Official White House Photo by David Lienemann)

After touring the expansion of the Panama Canal, Vice President Joe Biden and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said Tuesday they plan to increase their advocacy for a proposed CSX transfer station in Baltimore. 

"You had [Panama] President [Ricardo] Martinelli saying, 'Look, any port on the East Coast that doesn’t dredge to 50-feet deep, and does not expand the size of their dock and intermodel connections, they're going to lose out," Biden said in a telephone interview from Panama with The Baltimore Sun.

"Baltimore is more ready than others," Biden said, citing the port's already-deep dredging. "Baltimore is ahead of the game. You've got the cranes. You've got the widened docks. The last piece to put in place is the intermodal facility."

Rawlings-Blake traveled with Biden, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz and others to Panama for a two-day trip. 

"The feat of engineering that has taken place to build this canal is simply amazing," Rawlings-Blake said. "It strengthened my resolve to advocate for more infrastructure investment. It is important to have the dredging but it’s also important to have the intermodal facility. The vice president said it. Private industry said it." 

As she traveled abroad, Rawlings-Blake has been dealing with community opposition at home on a project she says is important to the port. Key members of the City Council have turned against a $90 million terminal project, called an intermodal facility, that would allow CSX Transportation to ship more cargo more quickly between the port and the rest of the country.

Community members in Morrell Park have said they're opposed to the proposed around-the-clock operation, served by about 310 trucks a day, that would allow shipping containers to be stacked two high on trains, which is a more efficient way to move them than by truck. 

"The vice president said his team would meet with us and figure how to advocate the best to make it happen," the mayor said Tuesday before boarding an evening flight back to Maryland. "I’m certainly not interested in shoving anything down the community’s throat that they don’t want. But it’s clear that for us to be successful wuth the port, we need to dredge and we need the intermodal facility. I come back to Baltimore committed to trying to figure that out. It made it crystal clear how important it is to have that infrastructure at the port." 

The expansion of the Panama Canal is expected to be a big boost to Baltimore's port, because it will allow larger ships to pass through the canal, which connects the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. The project will triple the capacity of the canal, officials said.

Biden predicted jobs at the Port of Baltimore could skyrocket. 

"The widening of this canal is going to have profound impacts on the East Coast," he said. "The Port of Baltimore is particularly well-situated. You already have over 100,000 jobs there. That could double." 

The Port of Baltimore is one of two ports on the East Coast capable of handling "super size" container vessels, the mayor's office said. The three largest ocean carriers in the world recently formed an alliance and pledged three weekly trips to Baltimore from northern Europe, the west Mediterranean and the Far East. 

"Manufacturing is coming back to the United States," Biden said. "We have everything. The only thing that’s missing is we don’t have 21st century infrastructure. We are increasing the height of tunnels. We are changing bridges. This is going to be a game-changer."

Rawlings-Blake also cited the planned 1.1 million square-foot Amazon warehouse distribution center as another key boost for Baltimore's port.