The importance of maintaining and improving infrastructure cannot be overstated. That’s because when cargo movement is delayed, redirected or seriously impeded, critical shipping deadlines are missed, orders get canceled, the cost of goods goes up, companies lose sales, businesses downsize, and America’s international competitiveness sinks.
As a nation, many of the goods we use every day — from car parts to computers, to the clothes we wear and the meals we eat — must first pass through one or more of the nation’s seaports. Closer to home, every resident and visitor in West and Central Florida will use some product that has shipped into Port Tampa Bay. For example, all of the gasoline consumed in our region, as well as the jet fuel for our region’s airports, is delivered through our port.
Admittedly, it’s hard to make transportation infrastructure a top funding priority when we are repeatedly subjected to doomsday scenarios if highways, bridges, railroads, pipelines and ports are not fixed. Rather than use scare tactics, it’s time to look at the value of infrastructure and why improvements offer such a great return on investment.
According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, if the United States were to spend an additional $15.8 billion each year between now and 2020 on highway and rail links to ports and deeper harbor channels, the result would be an additional $270 billion in exports, $697 billion in domestic economic activity, 738,000 new jobs, and a $770 annual benefit for every American household. A motivated electorate is needed to drive home to our federal government the importance of making infrastructure investment a priority.
By reauthorizing the Water Resources Development Act, as expected this month, Congress will show again that it has the wherewithal to make freight mobility a bipartisan priority. It must next tackle the surface transportation reauthorization bill, which is due to expire later this year.
The government must also continue efforts to create a national freight strategy that addresses a wide variety of infrastructure needs for a diverse range of cargoes so they can be competitive in the global marketplace. Our nation needs to dedicate funding for freight projects of national and regional significance. That includes integrating connectors between the Interstate Highway system and intermodal facilities, such as seaports and airports, into a larger strategy. Identifying and funding intermodal freight connectors is vital to port efficiency and cargo mobility. This type of work is taking place in Tampa Bay. The new I-4 Connector is an excellent example of intermodalism that will pay dividends for generations to come.
As America recovers from the worst economic recession in most of our lifetimes, cargo volumes will continue to grow. Fortunately for us in Florida, the state has established a model approach toward freight infrastructure investment. Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida legislature, with the help of the Florida Chamber and its benchmark trade and logistics study, have had the vision to make unprecedented investments in transportation infrastructure during the past four years, underscoring the nexus between such investment and Florida’s growing international trade. But we cannot stop there.
Ports, along with their private-sector partners, are spending more than $9 billion annually to build and maintain a world-class maritime transportation system. These investments support U.S. businesses and jobs, our global competitiveness and our entire economy. Yet, ports are neither responsible for, nor have the resources to, make many of the most necessary transportation infrastructure investments, particularly the connecting links just outside the ports’ jurisdiction. We look to our local, state and federal government partners to improve these links, the final pieces in the transportation infrastructure puzzle.
President and CEO, Port Tampa Bay,
Chairman, Florida Senate Transportation Committee,
This commentary was published in the June 2014 issue of American Shipper.