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More shippers on board after $850m expansion of Boston freight terminal

The cargo ship Ever Fortune was docked Thursday at the Conley Terminal in South Boston.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

The Massachusetts Port Authority says the $850 million invested in the recent Boston Harbor dredging project and expansion of the state’s primary freight terminal is already starting to pay off.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the Conley Container Terminal was served by two shipping routes connecting Boston with seven ports. Starting later this fall, Conley will be served by six routes that connect with 25 ports around the globe.

Massport CEO Lisa Wieland credits the dredging and expansion projects — funded by a combination of state, federal, and port authority money over nearly a decade — for the terminal’s increased appeal. The port authority hosted an event on Friday at the South Boston terminal to highlight the completion of the projects. (The final piece of the dredging was done in June.)

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Governor Charlie Baker attended, as did Mayor Michelle Wu, along with members of the state’s congressional delegation and other political leaders. Robert Kraft, whose International Forest Products company counts as Conley’s largest customer, also was there.

The projects, among other changes, added three cranes to Conley and more depth to the harbor’s main shipping lanes to accommodate larger ships. One of the larger ships — the Ever Fortune, in use by the Ocean Alliance consortium — docked at the Conley on Thursday.

“Conley Terminal really is New England’s gateway to the world,” Wieland said. “We’ve seen an increase in global connectivity. It’s really exciting for New England’s importers and exporters.”

As recently as two years ago, Boston was served by two shipping routes run by MSC and Ocean Alliance, connecting Boston with Europe and China, respectively. Now, MSC will offer three routes, including one to India and one to China. Shipping company ZIM now offers Southeast Asia service, as does COSCO, whose ships will also stop in the Middle East. Obtaining access to ports in Southeast Asia has been a longtime goal of Massport.

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The terminal has not yet seen a major increase in freight volume. In 2019, more than 200,000 20-foot equivalent units (standard shipping containers, also called TEUs) were shipped through Boston in the first eight months of the year. That number dropped to roughly 142,500 TEUs in the first eight months of 2021, and 99,000 through August of this year — numbers that reflect various supply chain disruptions largely brought about by the pandemic. Shipping traffic in Boston took a big hit last winter when Ocean Alliance temporarily suspended calls to Boston amid an East Coast traffic logjam for container ships.

But Massport officials are now confident that those numbers will rise. Year-over-year volume has already improved in July and August, when compared to the same months in 2021.

“The pandemic upended everything, [but] now we’re on the other side, these investments have just been completed . . . and these six services coming this fall, we’re starting to see an upswing in cargo,” Wieland said.

State Senator Nick Collins, whose district includes the Conley terminal, said it’s encouraging to see that the port expansion has drawn so much interest from shipping companies.

“I think we’re going to continue to see Massachusetts and New England makers and businesses export more and different goods from Boston’s shores to the world, and vice versa,” said Collins, who co-chairs the Legislature’s bonding and capital expenditures committee. “It’s very important to the local economy and also the regional economy.”

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Jon Chesto can be reached at jon.chesto@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.