Since 1995, container activity at U.S. seaports has shown a greater concentration of vessel calls and cargo traffic in a few leading ports because of increased use of larger, faster, and more specialized vessels. Modern post-Panamax vessels are longer than two football fields and can carry up to 12,500 TEUs. Currently, few west coast ports can accommodate these vessels.
In 2009, the top 10 U.S. container ports accounted for 85 percent of containerized imports and exports (measured in TEUs), up from 78 percent in 1995. Five of the top 10 container ports in the United States are on the west coast, four are on the east coast, and one is on the gulf coast (table 3).
From 1995 to 2009, the port of Los Angeles grew the most in terms of absolute TEUs handled, reflecting increased U.S. trade with Asia-Pacific countries, particularly China, and the transportation of higher-value-per-ton Asian manufactured goods into the United States. New York/New Jersey was second, showing significant growth in U.S. trade with Europe. The ports of Savannah, Los Angeles, and Houston had the largest average annual growth rates (table 3). The growth rates for Savannah and Houston reflect the expansion in U.S. container trade with Latin American countries and changes in the location of freight logistics hubs and distribution service centers. The growth in Savannah's containerized traffic also underscores the increase in retail import distribution centers in the Savannah area—several national retailers have established large distribution centers there.