portCharleston_Colombus_St_terminalThe US port of Charleston has received the final approval necessary to proceed with a $300m harbour-deepening project, a move that will allow larger Post-Panamax vessels access on a 24-hour basis.

Approval on the project, which will deepen the harbour by an additional 7ft to 52ft (15.8-metres) – and 54ft in the channel – was granted by the US Army Corps of Engineers. The project will make the port the deepest on the US east coast by the end of the decade, according to the South Carolina Ports Authority (SCPA). Construction on the port will begin next year.

“This depth advantage will provide our customers with 24-hour access to deepwater, a requirement for significant long-term volume growth in today’s big-ship environment,” confirmed Jim Newsome, SCPA’s president and CEO. “We are grateful for the expertise and leadership of our partners, the US Army Corps of Engineers, who deliver today’s news just four years after we began the deepening process.”

Charleston is already one of the top 20 vehicle handling ports in North America. In its last fiscal year (July 2014-June 2015) it handled a record 253,338 vehicles, an increase of 15% over the previous record year in fiscal 2008 when it moved 219,900 vehicles.

The port was also cited as a major factor in Volvo’s decision to build its first US plant in South Carolina earlier this year.

The Columbus Street Terminal, which handles finished vehicles and other ro-ro cargo, currently has a draft of 13.7-metres, which will be deepened under the latest plans, allowing bigger ro-ro vessels access on a 24-hour basis. The latest plans build on the $21.7m the port made in 2011 on enhancements to the Columbus Street Terminal.

Charleston has direct rail links served by CSX and Norfolk Southern. Both operate large rail yards there served by double-stack intermodal trains. It is also a major container port, with automotive parts in the top three commodities imported and exported.

This month the port received an A1 rating status from Moody’s Investor Services.

Moody’s cited the port authority’s strong operating profile, “the most notable of which is its current depth of 45ft with time and tide windows of up to 48ft and the potential to be the deepest port on the east coast with approval to deepen to 52ft by the end of the decade.”