Shortchanging Our Ports

Feb 5, 2013

Photographer: Tim Rue/Bloomberg.

The Economist reports on greater demand for American ports:

The number of ships calling at American ports is rising—by 13% in 2010 after an 8% decline a year earlier—as is those ships’ size: after expansion is complete in 2014, the Panama Canal will accommodate 366-metre-long ships with a 15-metre draft, compared with pre-expansion lengths of 294 metres and 12-metre drafts. The canal’s expansion will make it easier for Asian ships to reach America’s east and gulf coasts—home to five of its ten busiest container ports—and for American commodities to cross the Pacific. By 2030 “post-Panamax” ships are expected to comprise a majority of the world’s container ship capacity. And yet just seven of American container ports stand ready to receive such ships—and only one of these is in the South, where population growth is highest.

The federal government has only spent $357 million in the last four years, while “public ports and their private partners expect to invest $9 billion in port infrastructure” in the next five years according to Kurt Nagle, President and CEO of the American Association of Ports Authorities.”

The story finds that inland waterways infrastructure, such as locks, is also being shortchanged:

In 2009 [the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE)] estimated a five-year funding shortfall for inland waterways—the primary mode of transport for much of America’s exported commodities—of $20.5 billion.

According to ASCE, this underinvestment cost “American businesses $33 billion in 2010, and that without significantly increased investment those costs could rise to $49 billion (in constant dollars) by 2020.”

It is apparent that something needs to be done. The Economist describes a situation involving a New Orleans replacement lock that was authorized in 1956 but is not expected to be completed until 2030. This is ludicrous. Clearly, as Congress and the administration contemplate the next Water Resources Development Act, they are going to have to address the triad of 1) prioritization, 2) policy and project delivery, and 3) adequate funding.  Failing to do so runs counter to the need or this country for growth and jobs.

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