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The Port of Oakland was the first major port on the Pacific Coast of the United States to build terminals for container ships. It is now the fourth busiest container port in the United States; behind Long Beachmarker, Los Angelesmarker, and Newarkmarker. Development of an intermodal container handling system in 2002 culminated over a decade of planning and construction to produce a high volume cargo facility that positions the Port of Oakland for further expansion of West Coast freight market share.

Early history

Originally, the estuary, wide, had a depth of two feet at mean low tide. In 1852, the year of Oaklandmarker's incorporation as a town by the California State Legislature, large shipping wharves were constructed along the Oakland Estuarymarker, which was dredged to create a viable shipping channel. 22 years later, in 1874, the previously dredged shipping channel was deepened to make Oakland a deep water port.

In the late 1800s, the Southern Pacific was granted exclusive rights to the port, a decision the city soon came to regret. In January 1906, a small work party in the employ of the Western Pacific Railroad, which had just begun construction, hastily threw a crossing over the SP line to connect the WP mainline with trackage built on an area of landfill. This act, protested by the SP and later held up in court, broke the railroad's grip on the port area. The courts ruled that all landfill since the date of the agreement did not belong to the SP. This ruling ended SP control and made the modern Port of Oakland possible.

On May 6, 1915, the Admiral Dewey became the first vessel to dock at the foot of Clay street. Captain J. Daniels, master of the vessel, was greeted by Commissioner of Public Works Harry S. Anderson and Harbor Manager W.W. Keith, the two men who had so much to do with the upbuilding of the city's waterfront, were the first aboard the boat. "Captain do you realize that you are the commander of the first big vessel that has ever tied up to what will eventually be the busiest wharf on the Pacific Coast?" Anderson asked that official as he shook Captain J. Daniels hand. "I certainly do realize that, Mr. Anderson." returned Captain Daniels, "and I assure you that I appreciate the honor. I've been many years on the sea, but I have never docked a ship at a better wharf than this."-Source Oakland Tribune May 7, 1915. The project in 1921 dug a channel thirty feet deep at mean low water from the bay to Brooklyn Basin, a distance of four and three quarters miles, and then a channel twenty-five feet deep around the basin and eighteen feet to San Leandro Baymarker, an added distance of four miles (6 km). However, the port was not officially named the Port of Oakland until 1927, under the leadership of the newly-organized Board of Port Commissioners.

Under the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1922, the project produced the channel thirty feet deep and eight hundred feet wide through the shoal south of Yerba Buena Island narrowing to six hundred feet at the end of the Oakland jetties, widening of the estuary channel to six hundred feet to Webster Street, dredging of the south channel basin to thirty feet and a turning basin, then thirty feet to Park street, at a cost to the federal government of six million dollars

In 1962, the Port of Oakland began to admit container ships. Container traffic greatly increased the amount of cargo loaded and unloaded in the Port; by the late 1960s, the Port of Oakland was the second largest port in the world in container tonnage. However, depth and navigation restrictions in San Francisco Baymarker limited its capacity, and by the late 1970s it had been supplanted by the Ports of Los Angelesmarker and Long Beachmarker as the major container port on the West Coast.

Recent history

One of the main limitations to growth was the inability to transfer containers to rail lines, all crane historically operating between ocean vessel and trucks. In the 1980s the Port of Oakland began the evaluation of development of an intermodal container transfer capability, i.e. facilities that would allow trans-loading of containers from vessels to either trucks or rail modes. The Port retained VZM, Korve Engineering and Earth Metrics to perform engineering and environmental studies to allow detailed engineering to proceed. In 1987, on behalf of the Oakland port Commission, Allen Broussard led a group of 72 lawyers and city officials on a 3-week long trip to Chinamarker meeting the Mayor of Shanghai, Jiang Zemin (Shanghai is twinned with San Franciscomarker)

Completion of the resulting rail intermodal facility occurred in 2002. That brought the cumulative investment of port expansion to over 1.4 billion dollars since 1962, half of which was comprised by the intermodal facility. In the early 2000s, the new intermodal rail facility along with severe congestion at the Ports of Los Angelesmarker and Long Beachmarker caused some trans-Pacific shippers to move some of their traffic to the Port of Oakland (especially if the final destination is not in Southern California but lies farther east). Also, the Port is now reaping the benefits of investment in post-panamax cranes, dredging, and the transfer of military property, which has now been used for expansion.

Deepening the port has been completed from 42 feet to 50 feet to accommodate larger ships, of which Los Angelesmarker, Long Beachmarker, Seattle and Tacoma already are 50 feet deep. The $432 million project was completed in September 2009.

Oakland International Airport

In addition to its maritime activities, the Port also operates Oakland International Airportmarker.

See also


  1. Initial Study: Intermodal Interface Demonstration Project, Port of Oakland, Oakland, California, Earth Metrics and Korve Engineerning, December 20, 1989
  2. In Memoriam: Honorable Allen E. Broussard (1929 – 1996)
  3. Port of Oakland Official Site: Facts and Figures (2006)
  4. Port of Oakland digs deep for greater capacity

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