La. ports lobby state for new funds
Louisiana ports are seeking a greater commitment from the state legislature to fund infrastructure projects they say are needed to stay competitive with ports in Alabama, Texas and other Gulf states.
The Ports Association of Louisiana launched a two-prong campaign last week seeking a one-time infusion of extra state funding to complete unfinished or wait-listed infrastructure projects and releasing a five-year, $849 million capital improvement program that identifies 104 new construction projects.
The trade group, which represents inland, coastal and deepwater ports, asked the state legislature to triple its normal annual appropriation of $20 million in order to complete projects already in the pipeline. The Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD) has approved $62 million worth of port-related projects for the fiscal year beginning in July, $38 million of which is for eight ongoing projects. Under current law, no new projects can be funded until those projects are completed. With the state’s Port Construction Development Priority Program capped at $20 million per year those projects will drag out for two years while another $23 million in work is on hold.
The association asked legislators to approve $42 million from the general fund surplus to help pay for the construction backlog, in addition to the regular $20 million in grants from the transportation trust fund for new projects, said Dot McConnell, the group’s deputy director, in an interview.
Rep. Roy Quezaire said he would introduce a bill to appropriate $50 million for the 2007-2008 fiscal year when the legislative session begins on April 30, according to the Times-Picayune newspaper in New Orleans. He proposed port funding continue at that level in the future.
Among the projects recommended by DOTD are $5 million for purchasing a hydraulic dredge for the Port of New Orleans, $47 million to renovate the bulk terminal at Lake Charles, and about $14 million for a pier and crane renovation at the Port of South Louisiana’s Globalplex intermodal bulk and general cargo terminal.
State funding historically covers about 30 percent of port improvement projects, with ports self-funding 60 percent of the remaining cost through revenues and bond issues. Other federal and state grants, and private investment account for about 10 percent of port funds.
The ports association has determined that the five-year capital improvement program will have an annual funding shortfall of $73 million after regular contributions from all sources. Some projects would take longer than five years to complete, bringing the total cost to more than $1 billion.
The Louisiana ports are also asking the state to double its annual contribution for this period with $20 million from the general fund, consistent with the DOTD’s previous intermodal transportation plan and last year’s Maritime Advisory Task Force recommendations for state contributions to port infrastructure, McConnell said.
Ports are a good investment for the state, bringing in $6 in taxes, jobs and other benefits for every $1 invested, she said.
The association is asking that all the money be funneled to the port priority program to which ports apply for project grants.
“We can’t afford to miss the boat,” McConnell said.