As part of our work to ensure there is enough container terminal capacity for growing trade on Canada’s west coast, the port authority regularly commissions independent, expert third-party container traffic forecasts that consider long-term trends in global markets and trade, as well as other drivers of container traffic demand. These forecasts each identify a low, base, and high growth scenario.
Canada’s west coast container trade remains on a long-term growth trajectory, averaging 5% growth annually for the past decade. This historical growth is in line with the high growth scenario. There are several reasons for this sustained period of high growth, including ongoing economic and population growth in Canada and around the world; the opening of China’s economy in the early 2000s; and the increasing preference for containers as an easier and cost-effective option to move goods, such as grain, lumber, and steel, that were previously shipped by other methods.
Canada’s west coast terminals are projected to run out of capacity by the mid- to late-2020s. To add more capacity where possible, operators have expanded and reconfigured their container terminal capacity, including at Centerm Expansion Project and South Shore Access Project in Vancouver and Fairview Container Terminal in Prince Rupert. As the environmental assessment process for Roberts Bank Terminal 2 has stretched to nearly a decade, these expansions have bought the west coast some extra time—but not enough.
If Roberts Bank Terminal 2 is approved by the federal government by the end of 2022, we expect to bring the project online in 2033. As the federal environmental assessment process for the project has taken much longer than we previously anticipated, we have moved out the project timeline accordingly, which is reflected in our latest container trade forecast graphic below.
Under the base case timeline, which expert forecasts believe to be the most likely, this would mean about a five-year west coast capacity crunch, affecting Canadians across the country. A later decision by the federal government would extend that capacity crunch, and Canadians would experience the delays and impacts of a new wave of made-in-Canada supply-chain congestion, on top of any globally-based congestion at that time. Additionally, without sufficient capacity, Canadian importers and exporters might need to divert cargo through U.S. ports, incurring new costs that would be passed on to Canadian consumers and producers, impacting affordability and Canada’s trade competitiveness.
Planning to meet demand
The port authority has explored a number of opportunities to increase container capacity. Since 2003, we have:
- Increased the size and efficiency of existing container terminals
- Improved road and rail connections to handle more containers
- Explored whether other port terminals could be converted to handle containers
- Examined the possibility of building a new terminal
A number of improvements have also been made to existing container terminals, including Vanterm and Centerm in Vancouver’s inner harbour, and Deltaport at Roberts Bank in Delta:
- Completion of the Deltaport Third Berth expansion in 2010 added 600,000 TEUs
- As part of the Deltaport Terminal Road and Rail Improvement Project, the port authority, along with Global Container Terminals Canada and the Province of British Columbia, completed improvements in and around Deltaport that created an additional 600,000 TEUs of capacity
- The port authority, in partnership with DP World and design-build contractor Centennial Expansion Partners, is improving the Centerm marine container terminal and associated roadways to increase the terminal’s capacity by 60%, with construction expected to be complete in 2023
- Future terminal improvements at Vanterm could generate 200,000 to 300,000 TEUs of capacity
In addition, the Port of Prince Rupert is expanding its container terminals, and all improvements at both ports are required to support Canada’s growing trade.