The Port of Portland is in line to get the final grant it needs to launch a $15.5 million improvement project that will double the amount of cargo freight it can move through the International Marine Terminal.

The project will add a second mobile harbor crane to the port, which enables faster loading and unloading of shipping containers, raze an old maintenance facility and build a new one in a better location, and improve rail connections.

“This is about adding capacity to handle cargo freight and improving efficiency and productivity,” said Maine Port Authority Executive Director John Henshaw. “That helps every Maine company that imports or exports goods.”

The project will be funded by a combination of federal and state grants, which include a $7.7 million federal freight infrastructure grant awarded Wednesday, and a $500,000 investment from Pan Am Railways, a private regional railroad.

In its application for the freight grant, the Maine Department of Transportation said the project would double the cargo capacity at the port, which provides a critical trade connection to Canada, Scandinavia and Northern Europe.

In 2015, the port handled 10,500 containers arriving by ship or truck.

This is the latest in a string of improvement projects undertaken at the Port of Portland since 2009, when Maine Port Authority struck a deal with Portland to lease the International Marine Terminal.

The authority landed state and federal grants to improve the port, doing such things as expanding the trucking yard and installing electrical outlets that help keep refrigerated cargo cool, that attracted private investment.

It also lured Eimskip, an Icelandic cargo shipping line, to the port, which gave Portland its first consistent, waterborne cargo shipping connection to Europe. Before Eimskip’s 2013 arrival, the port handled containers brought in by truck from other ports.

In January, the port established a rail connection, too, allowing 10 rail cars to load or unload at a time. The new project will add a second rail line, doubling capacity for taking cargo on and off rail cars at one time.

But the new crane, which is estimated to cost about $4.5 million, will help the most, Henshaw said. It will help the terminal achieve its one-day loading and unloading turnaround goal land serve as an important back-up.

The existing crane was installed in 2001. While the authority tries to keep the crane in good shape, a repair or failure would force Eimskip to rely on on-ship cranes to load and unload cargo, slowing turnaround time, Henshaw said.

This will enable the port to welcome additional shipping vessels, he said. The authority wants to start a domestic shipping service with New York and New Jersey, and Eimskip wants to increase to weekly calls by 2020, if not earlier.

Installing the second crane will require the authority to tear down the existing maintenance shed, shore up the pier underneath with steel piles, and build a new maintenance and operations center near the entrance gate.

The new space will include a heated break room for terminal employees and training space, as well as give the authority better efficiency over the gates, and what enters and leaves the terminal, Henshaw said.

Maine Sen. Susan Collins, head of the transportation appropriations committee that approved the $7.7 million freight grant, said the project would create jobs, improve competitiveness and provide an economic boost for the state.

“This major seaport is utilized daily by businesses and customers across our state, including L.L. Bean, Poland Spring water and Aroostook potato growers,” Collins said in a statement Wednesday.

The project will allow more of the cargo that is currently offloaded at Canadian ports and transported to the U.S. by truck to come into the country through the Port of Portland instead, and relieve highway congestion between the ports.

Maine Transportation Commissioner David Bernhardt thanked Collins for her work, describing the port project as one that would help Maine business grow, and add jobs.

The project, along with others selected for funding under the $305 billion, five-year FAST Act, or Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act, must undergo a 60-day congressional review before it receives grant funding, Collins said.

Penelope Overton can be contacted at 791- 6463 or at:

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