More investment, mutual planning, less regulation crucial for US ports
By Paul Scott Abbott, AJOT
In a challenging economic, regulatory and political environment, cooperative efforts are necessary to ensure sufficient port and connective infrastructure is in place to keep the United States from falling even further behind in the global trade and transportation arena.
That message – a cry for greater investment, collaborative planning and streamlined regulation – was the underlying theme of the American Association of Port Authorities’ 101st annual convention, hosted Oct. 21-25 in Mobile by the Alabama State Port Authority.
Edward G. Rendell, co-chairman of Building America’s Future, cited the plummet since 2005 of the United States from No. 1 to No. 14 among nations in overall infrastructure rankings of the World Economic Forum, commenting, “We’re getting our brains beat out, and it matters.”
Rendell, who served as Pennsylvania governor from 2003 to 2011, said he believes most leaders in the United States never thought that Panama would come up with the nearly $6 billion needed for Panama Canal expansion, so the project’s overwhelming backing by Panamanian voters in a 2006 national referendum came as a big surprise.
“America was caught woefully off-guard,” Rendell said, “and we need to catch up.”
Edward G. Rendell, co-chairman of Building America’s Future, says the federal government must streamline regulatory processes that slow transportation infrastructure progress.
(Photo by Paul Scott Abbott, AJOT)
Rendell called for a cooperative, long-term strategy for infrastructure planning and revitalization, and he said that “regulation has to get sensible” so that transportation projects can advance in a timely manner. He termed it “absolutely ludicrous” that it typically takes eight or more years to get dredging permit approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
In his address, AAPA’s outgoing chairman, Jerry Bridges, in his final week before his resignation from his role as executive director of the Virginia Port Authority was to take effect, said, “It is not an option to invest in ports; it’s a necessity.”
Bridges said of regulatory processes that can hold up port projects for as many as 20 years, “God knows, we need to move it quicker.”
U.S. Rep. Jo Bonner, R-Ala., called for a “common sense” approach to regulation, urging “reform of the regulatory mindset.”
Bonner, who chairs the House Ethics Committee and serves on the House Appropriations Committee, said it was “nothing short of a miracle” that congressional agreement was reached on the transportation reauthorization bill signed into law in July, but, noting that the measure only runs through September 2014, he termed it “just a Band-Aid.”
U.S. Rep. Jo Bonner, R-Ala., says Congress will have to get to work on a new transportation bill in early 2013. (Photo by Paul Scott Abbott, AJOT)
“We’re going to have to start working on a new transportation bill right after we get organized,” Bonner said, referring to the swearing in of the 113th Congress and the presidential inauguration in January. “We have an infrastructure that not only is decaying but in many instances is beyond decay. It is crumbling... We’ve got to come together as a country.”
Indicative of collaborative spirit among transport sectors, Pierce Homer, transportation director of Moffatt & Nichol, in his role as co-chairman of the American Road and Transportation Builders Association, joined Kurt J. Nagle, AAPA’s president and chief executive officer, in signing a memorandum of cooperation.
“The reason this is so critical is that the system is set up frankly to promote divide and conquer,” said Homer, a former Virginia secretary of transportation, who noted that those from all transportation segments must work together rather than fight for pieces of funding pies. “We want this to send a message to Washington.”
Rachel Vandenberg, vice president of the North American intermodal practice of the AECOM consulting engineering firm, commented, “Ports are truly successful when they’re integrated with the local economy, supportive infrastructure and a community that’s really behind them.”
Pierce Homer, co-chairman of the American Road and Transportation Builders Association, left, and Kurt J. Nagle, president and chief executive officer of the American Association of Port Authorities, sign a memorandum of collaboration. (Photo by Paul Scott Abbott, AJOT)
Alabama officials – including Gov. Robert Bentley, Mobile Mayor Sam Jones and Alabama State Port Authority Director and Chief Executive Officer James K. Lyons – emphasized the vital economic role of Mobile’s port, which, thanks in part to the port authority’s $700 million investment in improvements, now directly and indirectly supports 142,000 Alabama jobs.
J. Stanley Payne, chief executive officer of the Canaveral Port Authority, said the diverse infrastructure program of Port Canaveral has helped to offset Central Florida’s job losses associated with the mid-2011 discontinuation of Space Shuttle flights.
J. Stanley Payne, chief executive officer of the Canaveral Port Authority, underscores the need for ports to invest in diverse infrastructure. (Photo by Paul Scott Abbott, AJOT)
“You really need to make a decision that you’re going to take a risk, even especially during a recession,” Payne said. “Sometimes, it’s important for ports to grow because nothing else is.”
Noting that significant cargo and cruise facility enhancements have recently been completed at Port Canaveral, Payne said his port authority should be finished building a pair of projects focused upon tourism and entertainment – a welcome center and amphitheater – by the time Port Canaveral plays host to the next AAPA convention, to be held Oct. 13-17, 2013, in Central Florida.
AAPA’s 2014 convention is slated for Houston, its 2015 gathering for Miami and, as just awarded, the 2016 convention in Panama, where officials are hopeful that, even with project delays, Panama Canal expansion will indeed be complete.