About this Article
Written by: Kalia Shibao
Written on: April 4th, 2003
Tags: civil engineering, environmental engineering, mechanical engineering, material science
Thumbnail by: USGS/Wikimedia Commons
About the Author
In the spring of 2003, Kalia was an engineering student at the University of Southern California.
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Volume V Issue III > Collaborative Engineering Creates Artificial Mega-Structure at the Port of Los Angeles
It is not uncommon to see distinctions drawn between civil and environmental engineering projects. Preconceptions are regularly formed over what truly constitutes an environmentally friendly task, and these preconceptions rarely include the work of civil engineers. However, many engineering wonders exist primarily due to the interaction between these two disciplines. One such marvel, the Port of Los Angeles (POLA) Pier 400 container terminals, combines the understanding of civil engineering principles with environmental awareness to stand as the most immense dredging and landfill operation ever attempted in American waterways. When completed, the Pier 400 container terminal yard space will span 484-acres making it the largest single container handling facility in the world. As part of the 2020 Port Master Plan, Pier 400 is expected to generate nearly 59,000 new jobs and add $3.4 billion to the economy over the next 25 years. Yet, the inclusive Pier 400 project encompasses much more than mere economic benefits: the project also anticipates having a lasting environmental impact. By utilizing environmentally-conscious assembly methods and developing various mitigation projects, while maintaining the overall safety of Los Angeles Harbor, Pier 400 will surface as an unprecedented collaborative engineering accomplishment.


Often, when we reflect on the civil engineering industry, construction and demolition immediately come to mind. The practice of civil engineering is rarely synonymous with ideas of environmental restoration or betterment. Rather, images of long spanning bridges, high rise buildings, or concrete factories epitomize the discipline. Some individuals have the preconceived idea that civil engineers tear down structures simply to put up new ones. As a result, civil engineers are often perceived as mere builders and destroyers. Thus, when civil engineers announced the prospect of dredging the Port of Los Angeles (POLA) for development purposes, red flags were quickly raised. Many questioned the necessity of dredging millions of cubic yards off existing shipping channel bottoms, and concerns arose regarding the development's long term environmental impact. Such issues quickly became highly debated topics. However, once it was apparent that the survival of the POLA relied heavily upon the completion of these dredging operations, civil and environmental engineers collaborated to plan one of the largest port expansion projects in history. Together, they designed a container terminal facility whose economic advantages alone unarguably justify its existence.

The Port of Los Angeles Today

Currently, one out of every twenty-four southern California jobs originates from the Port of Los Angeles [1], yet the port's contribution to society extends far beyond the southern California job market. Undoubtedly, every American is affected activities within the POLA. Imports such as automobiles, clothing, food, toys, and even toilet paper often enter through the port. In fact, it handles more than twenty-five percent of trade on the west coast, and POLA must constantly prepare to accommodate the increasing levels of international trade. To account for these projected boosts and keep the POLA as a competitive entity, engineers and port officials have initiated a channel-deepening plan that has evolved into the largest dredging and landfill operation ever attempted in American waterways. The project aims to increase channel depth for larger ships while maximizing the use of dredged materials to create a landfill now known as Pier 400 (Fig. 1).
USGS/Wikimedia Commons
Figure 1: Pier 400 will be engineered in the Port of Los Angeles to expand and accommodate growing services.
Presently, the POLA container terminals service businesses like the Mobil Oil Corporation, American Presidential Lines (APL) Ltd., and Distribution & Auto Service (DAS) Inc. With the addition of Pier 400, port officials added the Danish shipping giant Maersk-Sealand to that list of primary container operators. By signing a 25 year contract, Maersk-Sealand has established itself as the pier's exclusive customer, moving its principal container operations from the adjacent Port of Long Beach to Pier 400. As a result, Pier 400 will eventually become the largest single container handling facility in the world [2].