The Port of Davisville is one of the top ten auto ports in the US and has posted six consecutive years of “record breaking” effort. Nothing new for a port with a posting of 547% growth rate over the past two decades, and with infrastructure improvements in the works, the best may be yet to come.

Crates being unloaded from the BBC Ruby at the Port of Davisville, RI
Crates being unloaded from the BBC Ruby at the Port of Davisville, RI

The Port of Davisville, Rhode Island may not have the name recognition of the mega-ports but could well be the biggest “small” port in the US.
In 2015 the port posted its sixth consecutive record-breaking year and is one of the nation’s top ten auto ports. Not bad for an area that few port pundits could find on a map. No doubt ro-ro ports rarely garner the same recognition as container ports, but the results speak for themselves. Last year, 227,021 automobiles were imported through the port, surpassing the 2014 record by 48,806 vehicles. Another 42,150 vehicles arrived by rail and truck for a 2015 total volume of 269,171 vehicles. The 193 ship calls were also a new record for the port.

Impressive. But what other port in the U.S. can say that over the past two decades it had a 547% growth rate!

Talking about port growth never gets old. Evan Matthews, port director at the Port of Davisville, in an interview with the AJOT, explained there were a number of reasons for the port’s performance. The Port of Davisville is part of the Quonset Business Park (QBP), and North Atlantic Distributors Inc. (NORAD) is the auto processor responsible for attracting traffic to the facilities. There is no HMT (Harbor Maintenance Tax) assessed at the port, an advantage. But as Matthews points out, if the port’s facilities and services weren’t efficient then the lack of HMT wouldn’t have an impact. Furthermore, the port’s facilities are connected to the nation’s main rail trunk lines via the P&W RR (Providence and Worcester Railroad). Another factor that Matthews is quick to point out is the abundance of land in QBP, a commodity difficult to find in East Coast ports.

Spools being unloaded from the BBC Ruby at the Port of Davisville, RI
Spools being unloaded from the BBC Ruby at the Port of Davisville, RI

Although auto processing and handling is the port’s principal business, the lay down space is already paying dividends in another sector. According to Matthews, there are thirty blades for a terrestrial wind turbine project in the port. Although in the past specialized trucks have moved blades, the port can also offer rail, an important option for project cargo work (the port handled 387 mt of project cargo in 2015). The port is also handling the transmission cable that will eventually connect the “Deepwater Wind LLC” wind farm project in the waters off Block Island to the grid. The project touted as the nation’s first offshore wind farm, when completed is scheduled to deploy five turbines of 30 MW with the possibility of 110 MW of expansion.

In 2014 Davisville lost only one day because of weather and became an alternative port for vehicle imports. While the winter of 2015 was mild and without diversion traffic, Matthews is still looking to show OEMs that the port is a viable alternative inbound. Getting the word out has become a major part of the port’s efforts. In 2015, Matthews was part of the Commerce RI delegation that included a tour of the Hyundai factory at the Port of Uslan and met with representatives from Pyeongtaek Port Authority – the authority for one of South Korea’s largest auto ports. Additionally, Matthews is looking for an OEM export account, but confesses this is as much about rail tariffs as the capabilities of the port itself.

By far the biggest news for the port came in the form of a $90 million proposal by Rhode Island Governor Gina M. Raimondo to modernize and reconstruct Pier 2. The Port of Davisville’s Pier 2 was constructed in 1956 with a design life of 50 years. Modernizing the pier would significantly upgrade the port’s handling capacity. Right now the port has two real berths and with larger ro-ro vessels on the horizon upgrading the port’s berths is a key investment for the future. The investment will be made in two parts, a $70 million general obligation bond and a $20 million revenue bond. (This is a similar capital investment model that the port used to fund the dredging project completed in 2012.) Under the Governor’s proposal, the $20 million revenue bond would be repaid by the QDC (Quonset Development Corporation) and port users. The QDC is a quasi-state agency established as a special purpose subsidiary of the RI Commerce Corporation, which is responsible for the development and management of QBP.