Molly Campbell has been an executive of the busiest U.S. containerport before, and she’s looking to hold that distinction again – now at the Port of New York & New Jersey.

Since coming aboard as director of the Port of New York & New Jersey in July 2015, Molly Campbell has been impressed with the capabilities and enthusiasm of her new colleagues.
Since coming aboard as director of the Port of New York & New Jersey in July 2015, Molly Campbell has been impressed with the capabilities and enthusiasm of her new colleagues.

The goal would appear to be a tall order but in reach. In calendar 2015, the Port of New York & New Jersey had a total containerized cargo throughput of 6.37 million 20-foot-equivalent units, trailing only the Port of Long Beach, at 7.19 million TEUs, and Campbell’s former bailiwick, the Port of Los Angeles, in the No. 1 spot with 8.16 million TEUs. Indeed Campbell, who came aboard as director of the Port of New York & New Jersey in July 2015 after 15 years at the Port of Los Angeles, including as deputy executive director, is confident major infrastructure enhancements will literally and figuratively clear the way, propelled by a long-term roadmap, productive partnerships and dedicated staff of the freshly remonikered Port Department.

In an interview with the American Journal of Transportation, Campbell enthusiastically shared her thoughts on the recently finished deepening of the port’s harbor to 50 feet, the soon-to-be-completed raising of the Bayonne Bridge roadbed, the just-inked agreement to bring the port its first-ever comprehensive master plan and the possibility of extended gate hours by late next year.

While already largely big-ship ready, once both the harbor and bridge projects are done, the Port of New York & New Jersey should be able to fully accommodate the heftier, deeper-draft containerships now able to transit the post-expansion Panama Canal, bringing more containers from Asia to reach U.S. consumers via the Gotham gateway as opposed to by way of Southern California.

“We’ve got two major infrastructure programs that are really extremely topical as far as positioning us into the future,” Campbell said, citing the harbor and bridge projects. “I think it’s a major opportunity.”

The $1.6 billion 50-foot harbor project, completed in conjunction with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in late summer, “after 26 years before I started,” Campbell said, “puts us in a really great position.”

The second key component of making the port more fully big-ship ready, the $1.3 billion raising of the Bayonne Bridge roadbed, is progressing to meet a revised completion date in fourth quarter of 2017, with Campbell commenting, “I’m happy to report that it’s on track.

“This critical project is going to allow us to have an air draft under the bridge to accommodate the larger class of vessels coming in,” she said, noting the benefit of an additional 64 feet of clearance in going to 215 feet from 151 feet over the Kill Van Kull between Staten Island, New York, and Bayonne, New Jersey.

The port, under its $4 billion-plus capital program, supported by additional investments from other public- and private-sector entities, also is enhancing rail and roadway links, including looking to replace the Goethals Bridge that crosses the Arthur Kill just below the GCT New York container terminal at Howland Hook on Staten Island.

Meanwhile, recently announced private-sector investments include APM Terminals’ $70 million expansion and modernization of its Port Elizabeth terminal, to give that facility’s annual capacity a boost of more than 50 percent, to 2.3 million TEUs from its current 1.5 million TEUs.

Peering further into the future, the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey commissioners just approved on Sept. 22 a $3.4 million contract with Hatch Associates Consultants Inc. of New York for planning services to develop a comprehensive, long-range master plan for the port’s more than 3,000 acres of cargo facilities.

“The port has not historically had a master plan in place,” Campbell said. “We’re going to take a long-term look – 25 years-plus – in terms of all of our maritime facilities and projects and programs and just really have a real good roadmap in terms of what the port would look like, currently and then over a 25-year-plus horizon.

“Nothing like this has ever been done before, in terms of this magnitude and scope, in terms of a big, broad look at our entire operation,” she said. “So we’re excited about this.”

The Port of New York & New Jersey also is making progress in increasing productivity, with its truck appointment management system having reached the final testing phase following implementation of the port’s Terminal Information Portal System, or TIPS, to ease container pick-ups and deliveries.

Following completion of a pilot program of the truck appointment management system at the GCT Bayonne container terminal – a facility with access not constrained by the Bayonne Bridge roadbed – the system is expected to be swiftly implemented portwide, Campbell said, commenting, “I think the other terminals are going to jump onboard rather quickly.”

The port’s productive partnerships include with the New York Shipping Association and the Sandy Hook Pilots Association on a simulation study that, at least preliminarily, shows “absolutely no issue” with the port, after the bridge roadbed is raised, being able to receive vessels with capacities of as many as 14,000 TEUs, according to Campbell. She added that 18,000-TEU vessels will be able to be accommodated “with some operational restrictions.”

The port also is working with trucking industry partners and distribution center and real estate leaders, as well as terminal operators, in investigating longer hours of operation.

“The idea is to collaborate with the container terminals to move more cargo during off-peak times,” Campbell said. “This would include weekends and potential evenings.”

She said extended hours of operation likely are still several months away, adding, “We’re hoping to have something in place before the bridge (project) is completed.”

Campbell said decisions as to any possible off-peak incentives, such as those under the PierPASS program in Southern California, have yet to be made.

“We haven’t looked that far,” she said. “At this point, we’re just seeing what’s feasible and having discussions with the partners that would be affected. Certainly, the savings or any kind of incentives would be something you look at as a second step. The driver right now is to see what is possible and how we would do it.”

And port officials are actively engaged with community partners as well, Campbell pointed out, such as discussions with the New York mayor’s office on topics from hiring practices to environmental concerns.

Campbell takes pride in emphasizing the port’s collaborations, commenting, “As a landlord port, partnerships with our private-sector partners are key. It’s especially true for the terminal operators that we work with.”

So are partnerships with ocean carriers, particularly at a stressful time for that industry, and Campbell noted her recent return from a business trip to Europe during which she met with several executives of global lines headquartered there.

“It’s important for us to actually visit the people who make the decisions as to where the ships are going,” she said. “So those were very positive discussions.

“The shipping industry itself, as you know, is going through a lot of significant transformation,” Campbell continued. “A lot of it has to do with mergers and acquisitions and some of it is forced consolidation or the recent Hanjin Shipping receivership announcement.

“So this industry is going through significant changes very rapidly, and it’s going to look entirely different six months from now, as it will five years from now,” she said. “Being in front of our customers is really an important thing that we have to do with all of these changes.”

Campbell also cited the Port of New York & New Jersey’s Council on Port Performance, initiated in 2013, to bring all industry stakeholders together to address port issues. That cooperative effort for collective change has since been duplicated at numerous other ports.

“Everyone recognizes that you have to be collaborative,” she said. “This task force has been very instrumental in some of the recommendations that we’ve been working on to improve some of the efficiencies.”

Now more than 14 months on the job at the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, Campbell said she has been extremely impressed with the agency and its people.

“This agency is amazing,” she said. “There’s no other agency like it that I’m aware of in the country or the world that moves the type of transportation-type infrastructure that this agency moves, and the port’s one piece of it.”

Noting that the authority encompasses multiple airports, bridge and tunnels, as well as PATH trains running under the Hudson River, plus the new World Trade Center, Campbell said, “There are consumers – or the day-to-day public – that has a reason to touch all of them.

“So there are lots of people who actually see those facilities and touch those facilities,” she said. “The port, though, the cargo side of the business, is not as obvious. It’s there. It impacts your life. You go to the store and whatever you want to purchase is sitting on a shelf, but no one ever really thinks about how it gets there. Since cargo doesn’t speak, we as a department want to make sure we are speaking for the economic vitality and the moving of cargo.”

These days, those consumer items and more are coming by way of facilities under the aegis not of the Port Commerce Department of the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey but rather simply the Port Department of the authority.

Campbell announced the change July 28, a year and a day after taking the helm at the port.

“I think it’s just more reflective of who we are and what we do,” she said of the new name for her part of the massive bistate agency.

In the same announcement, Campbell shared the department’s new organizational chart, with staff delineated in three key areas: operations, finance, administration and infrastructure and capital; port business development and commercial; and strategy and innovation.

“This organization structure allows us to focus resources to manage the concerns of today, tomorrow and the future and be guided by the core beliefs of partnership, collaboration, communication, transparency and action oriented,” she said in an internal e-memo. “We believe this structure will better streamline our business to be more operationally efficient and ensure that we are ready and able to manage the next chapter of the port’s evolution as a premier global gateway.”

The people to whom that memo was addressed have totally wowed Campbell.

“I work with a talented group of professionals,” she said. “But I guess they’ve exceeded my expectations in terms of everyone’s ability to roll up their sleeves and just get the job done. It’s a stellar and professional staff, both within the Port Department and the Port Authority itself.

“That’s important, because it’s the people who make a difference in getting our jobs done,” Campbell continued. “I think it comes down to the people implementing the things that are going to make a difference. I think it comes down to the people recognizing that we’ve got our intermodal cargo that we’re fighting for. We’ve got rail capacity of over a million lifts (a year), and we’re only using maybe a bit more than a third of it.

“It’s the people who come down to say, ‘What can we do to do that better?’” she added. “It’s the people who came up with the idea to say, ‘We’ve got a draft restriction in terms of accommodating the big vessels. What can we do about it?’ and looked at a whole bunch of stuff before I came to even come up with a creative way of solving the Bayonne Bridge.

“So I do think the people are poised to come up with a lot of solutions for some of the challenges that are here,” she said, “and I think they get excited about it.”

Campbell certainly does.