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Transforming Transportation

by Jun 14, 2019Construction, Magazine, Transportation

The art of developing transportation infrastructure

Span Alaska currently has approximately seventy employees at two Anchorage terminals, all of which will be located at the new terminal when it is completed later this year.

Span Alaska

While some Bush pilots will do their best to land a plane just about anywhere, adventurous boaters might eye any piece of shoreline as “not impossible,” and some drivers feel roads are optional, for the majority of transportation professionals, ports, airports, and terminals are pretty important. By the end of the year Span Alaska will be operating a newly constructed terminal to increase efficiency and better serve its customers, and the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport and Port of Nome are both pursuing projects that will build economic opportunity for the communities they serve.

Span Alaska’s Anchorage Service Center

Span Alaska specializes in the transportation of consumer and retail goods and is the state’s largest less-than-container load freight forwarder. “We’ll haul just about anything,” says Span Alaska Vice President of Operations Chuck Onstott.

To meet that mission, Span Alaska is constructing a new freight terminal in Anchorage on Electron Drive near Minnesota Drive and International Airport Road. The new, 54,000-square-foot cross-dock terminal is designed with eighty-eight doors and is situated on a sixteen acre parcel of land.

According to Onstott, the main drivers behind the new terminal are efficiency and capacity for long-term growth. In 2015, Span Alaska purchased Pacific Alaska Forwarders, which at the time was approximately the same size as Span Alaska. “We were able to merge all facilities together with the exception of Anchorage where neither building was large enough to handle the combined freight volume,” he says. For the last four years, the company has been operating two terminals to serve the Anchorage area with combined capacity of approximately 25,000 square feet of warehouse space, compared to the 40,000 square feet of warehouse space at the terminal currently under construction.

With an eye toward the future, “We built this facility to provide ample capacity for growth,” Onstott explains. He says that Span Alaska is optimistic about the future of the transportation industry in Alaska: “We see a lot of prosperity and we want to be a big part of that. In order to do that, you have to have capacity.”

Watterson Construction is the general contractor for the project, and Bettisworth North Architects designed the terminal. Beyond the additional capacity, another request for the design was for the warehouse to be wider than Span Alaska’s current facilities, which allows the transportation company to stage freight in a way that improves operating efficiency. “Our goal from an operational standpoint is to handle the freight as little as we can, so we want to be able to unload freight out of one trailer and directly load it into a delivery unit,” Onstott says.

Rendering of the new 54,000-square-foot Span Alaska terminal, currently under construction.

Bettisworth North

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September 2019

September 2019

The new facility will also have a covered flatbed area that can accommodate up to three flatbed trucks at a time. Generally flatbed truck staging areas are not covered, so workers are exposed to the elements and in the winter the ground may be covered in snow or ice. “Working in a covered area will provide additional safety and comfort for our employees,” Onstott says.

He’s also excited that the entire site will be paved. The current Anchorage terminal that Onstott is based out of is only partially paved: the “upper” lot where the company parks trailers is gravel, which creates a lot of dust. “It will be a very clean environment with everything paved.”

The company currently leases its two Anchorage terminals but owns the new facility.

While the benefits are clear for Span Alaska, at the forefront of the company’s mind is its customers. “We have been in Anchorage for more than forty years. This substantial investment in our infrastructure underscores Span Alaska’s commitment to Alaska and to providing the most reliable, highest-quality cargo transportation services to the communities we serve,” says Span Alaska President Tom Souply.

The terminal is on schedule to be operational in the fourth quarter of 2019.

“We built this facility to provide ample capacity for growth… We see a lot of prosperity and we want to be a big part of that.”

—Chuck Onstott, VP of Operations, Span Alaska

Tom Souply, president of Span Alaska, at one of the company’s facilities.

Span Alaska

Span Alaska has operations throughout Alaska and is the state’s largest less-than-container load freight forwarder.

Span Alaska

Aerial views of the new Span Alaska terminal as of early May; the facility is scheduled to open in October.

Span Alaska

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Nome Deep Draft Port

The US Army Corps of Engineers has been preparing for public comment the Draft Feasibility Report for the deep draft port project at Nome, which includes a Tentatively Selected Plan, or TSP, for the port. According to Joy Baker, port director and project manager for the City of Nome, “The TSP pulls together all of the necessary project components to address the navigation, maneuvering, and depth limitations at the port. This now enables the project team to focus on refining the elements of the design layout rather than the broad array of concepts that have been on the table thus far.”

It’s an exciting milestone for a project that was initially tied to the Alaska Regional Ports Feasibility Study, which was paused in 2015 and terminated in 2018; however, the 2017 recommendation from the Corps to terminate the study was accompanied by a recommendation to initiate a follow-on investigation at the Port of Nome. According to the Corps, “The new investigation will examine a wider array of benefits than the previous study, including Nome’s role as a regional hub for surrounding communities that rely on fuel and goods.”

In addition to supporting the region, the proposed deep draft port would also stimulate additional economic activity in and around Nome. Baker says, “All construction brings economic benefit to the region through additional jobs and increased revenue for local businesses in hotels, restaurants, retailers, mechanical shops, and transportation operators. However, this project will also trigger increased long-term demand in these categories to serve the existing port traffic as well as the deep draft fleet that are currently transiting past Nome or anchoring offshore and lightering. Being dockside increases options for taking on stores and equipment, as well as conducting repairs. All of this brings long term economic benefit to the region.”

At the feasibility phase, many aspects of the project are still undetermined; however, because of predominant waves coming from a south-southwesterly direction, “the causeway extension in the shape of an ‘L’ is a given in nearly all of the concept alternatives,” Baker states. In addition, the project will require the extension of utilities (such as fuel lines) to accommodate delivery and loading to and from the deep draft vessels.

After the public comment period, the next step is an Agency Decision Milestone scheduled for later this year, with a final feasibility report due in March 2020, which would potentially allow the project to move into the design phase as early as June 2020. According to Baker, it’s important the project keeps moving forward. “The City’s position that there is an increasing level of urgency and importance for the project to be constructed based on geopolitical issues, receding ice, increased traffic, and a rising need to ensure that there is a deep draft port in the Arctic to support the nation’s security fleet’s refueling and resupply needs.”

“The TSP pulls together all of the necessary project components to address the navigation, maneuvering, and depth limitations at the port. This now enables the project team to focus on refining the elements of the design layout rather than the broad array of concepts that have been on the table thus far.”

—Joy Baker, Port Director, City of Nome

ANC Quick Cargo Warehouse

The Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport (ANC) is working on a plan to take advantage of the unique cargo transfer rights it has been granted by the US Department of Transportation. At ANC, foreign cargo carriers can transfer cargo from one of their planes to another plane; transfer cargo from one of their aircraft to any US air carrier; or transfer cargo from their aircraft to any other foreign carrier.

ANC Manager Jim Szczesniak says, “We want to maximize the use of those special air cargo transfer rights by allowing cargo airlines and freight forwarders to do cargo hub-and-spoke operations. The issue the airport has right now is, if your airplanes arrive here perfectly timed, you can do that, but if they’re not, the round trip to take cargo from an aircraft, move it to a warehouse, and then move back to the airport is around 3.5 miles and is not very efficient.”

To solve the problem, ANC developed the idea for a quick cargo center warehouse facility—in which cargo could be stored quickly and efficiently for a short amount of time, perhaps hours or a few days—that would be constructed and operated by a non-government, private company. In October the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities (DOT&PF) issued a Request for Expression of Interest, which is essentially the process through which DOT&PF gathered feedback about the proposed quick cargo warehouse from the market.

In particular, ANC was considering two different sites to house the warehouse facility, each of which had pros and cons. “The primary comments that we got were one of the locations had what we call air side access—that means that it’s really close to the airplanes—but it didn’t have land side access—which means you couldn’t regularly service it with trucks because they’d have to be cleared through security and escorted out here. And then the other site had the opposite problem… So we’ve changed it to a new location that will have access to both the land side and the air side,” Szczesniak says.

With the new site selected, work is moving forward to issue a Request for Qualifications for air cargo developers by mid-year, which will be followed by issuing a Request for Proposals to construct and operate the quick cargo facility in third quarter 2019.

“We want to help our existing customers keep their airplanes as full as possible and also attract new business,” Szczesniak says. He gives the example of perishables from Latin America traveling through ANC to Asia: With this cargo facility, instead of sending a shipment of perishables to Shanghai, for example, and then distributing them to different cities from there, carriers could sort those perishables into different planes in Anchorage and send them directly to Shanghai, Beijing, Tokyo, or Seoul. “We’re the number five ranked cargo airport in the world; on a typical day we’re seeing more than 150 wide-body cargo aircraft operations here. It’s a market that’s in an ideal location… In addition, you’ve got the added benefit of having great neighbors, because you’ve got UPS and FedEx that are going to be right next to this facility with their networks. Add the cargo transfer rights, and different airlines are able to get the product to where it needs to go.”

“We want to help our existing customers keep their airplanes as full as possible and also attract new business.”

—Jim Szczesniak, Manager, Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport

Alaska Business Magazine September 2019

In This Issue

Out of the Mine and into the Smelter

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Mining has long been a key fixture of Alaska’s economy. On a small scale, people flock to the 49th state to tour different operations. Kennecott Mine was once a booming copper mining site and is now a National Historic Landmark, attracting tourists eager to visit the ghost town and get a feel of the Gold Rush era it once dominated.

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