West Coast ports rally in D.C.
Top managers from the six largest U.S. West Coast ports converged on Washington Wednesday to bring attention to lawmakers and Obama administration officials on the negative impacts that the economic recession has had on their ability to continue improving their container transport operations.
'All ports are challenged with getting major infrastructure projects done,' said Richard D. Steinke, executive director for the Port of Long Beach, during a Wednesday morning press conference.
The West Coast ports have experienced 15 percent to 25 percent drops in container freight volumes during the first quarter of 2009, after experiencing significant annual growth from 2001 to 2007.
Weathering through this crisis, Steinke noted that ports in many other countries have it better than U.S. ports due to better coordinated national goods movement policies.
Canada's new container port at Prince Rupert has seen its container traffic increase 158 percent from March 2008 to March 2009, and Mexico's Lazaro Cardenas had a 110.2 percent increase in containers over the same period. 'Alternative gateways will have the ability to take jobs from the West Coast,' warned Tay Yoshitani, chief executive officer for the Port of Seattle.
Directors from the ports of Long Beach, Los Angeles, Oakland, Portland, Seattle and Tacoma will make several recommendations to Congress and administration officials this week to improve port access to much needed federal infrastructure development funds through the SAFETEA-LU reauthorization bill, including:
' Create a dedicated freight movement program with dedicated funding. This will make ports eligible recipients of freight movement funds through direct payment by formula to individual port authorities, as well as through a discretionary grant program awarded at the federal level for projects of regional and national significance.
' Develop an assistant secretary for intermodalism or freight movement at the Transportation Department. This office should have the authority to compel coordination of federal and state transportation agencies, have discretion to award grants for intermodal projects, and set the national freight movement policy and plan.
' Modify eligibility requirements to allow port participation in key surface transportation programs. This change would ensure that port and/or freight projects are considered eligible for funding in surface transportation programs and are prioritized for federal funds by state and local officials.
The port directors said similar federal programs already exist to provide financial support for freight infrastructure and movement starting outside the terminal gates.
'We recognize that dollars are hard to find' in the current economy, Steinke said. However, through a coordinated lobbying effort, the ports 'want to make sure it's a good bill,' he added.
'Without an efficient goods movement, transportation suffers, the economy suffers, and the environment suffers,' said Omar R. Benjamin, the Port of Oakland's executive director. 'We don't want to be the weak link in the chain.' ' Chris Gillis