The Port of Oakland is the first major port on the Pacific Coast of the United States to build terminals for container ships. It is now the fifth busiest container port in the United States, behind Long Beach, Los Angeles, Newark, and Savannah. Development of an intermodal container handling system in 2002 culminated over a decade of planning and construction to produce a high volume cargo facility that positions the Port of Oakland for further expansion of the West Coast freight market share. In addition to its maritime activities, the Port also operates Oakland International Airport. Developed land adjacent to the airport is also overseen by the Port, including the Airport Business Park.
One of the main limitations to growth was the inability to transfer containers to rail lines, all cranes historically operating between ocean vessels and trucks. In the 1980s the Port of Oakland began the evaluation of development of an intermodal container transfer capability, i.e. facilities that would allow trans-loading of containers from vessels to either trucks or rail modes. The Port retained VZM, Korve Engineering and Earth Metrics to perform engineering and environmental studies to allow detailed engineering to proceed. In 1987, on behalf of the Oakland port Commission, Allen Broussard led a group of 72 lawyers and city officials on a 3-week long trip to China meeting the Mayor of Shanghai, Jiang Zemin (Shanghai is twinned with San Francisco)
Completion of the resulting rail intermodal facility occurred in 2002. That brought the cumulative investment of port expansion to over 1.4 billion dollars since 1962, half of which was comprised by the intermodal facility. In the early first decade of the 21st century, the new intermodal rail facility along with severe congestion at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach caused some trans-Pacific shippers to move some of their traffic to the Port of Oakland (especially if the final destination is not in Southern California but lies farther east). Also, the Port is now reaping the benefits of investment in post-panamax cranes, dredging, and the transfer of military property, which has now been used for expansion.
Deepening of the port from 42 feet (13 m) to 50 feet (15 m) to accommodate larger ships has been completed. The ports of Los Angeles, Long Beach, Seattle and Tacoma were already 50 feet (15 m) deep. The $432 million project was finished in September 2009. Some 6,000,000 cubic yards (4,600,000 m3) of mud from the dredging was deposited at the western edge of Middle Harbor Shoreline Park to become a 188-acre (76 ha) shallow-water wetlands habitat for marine and shore life. Further dredging followed in 2011, to maintain the navigation channel. Prior to the March 2012 arrival of the MSC Fabiola, the largest container ship ever to enter the San Francisco Bay, the Port of Oakland prepared by checking channel depth and dredging as needed. The ship arrived drawing less than its full draft of 50 feet 10 inches (15.5 m) because it held only three-quarters of a load.