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America’s ports need a plan

U.S global competitiveness depends on America's seaports. As President Obama, Vice President Biden and Secretary Foxx take the necessary steps to designate, invest in and build a long overdue national freight network, our nation's seaports must play a critical role.

Ports are the gateways to our regional and national economies. Last year alone, 1.26 billion tonnes of international cargo, worth about $1.75 trillion, moved through America's seaports, together with about 800 million tonnes of domestic cargo. Our port-related infrastructure connects American farmers, manufacturers and consumers to the world marketplace and is facilitating the increase of American exports that are essential to our sustained economic growth.

In total, that port activity is responsible for more than 13 million jobs and over $200 million in federal, state and local revenue. Efficient freight movement is a crucial component of every state economy, and to the pocketbooks of every American.

Because of the unique role our seaports play to the national economy, the port industry can play a vital role in helping to develop a sustainable plan for the future. Like in any successful enterprise, we need a business plan for long-term success . . . to identify our markets, leverage our assets and prioritize and sustain our capital investments.

This is exactly what a sustainably-funded national freight strategy must do for our nation.

American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA) applauds and supports the Obama Administration's GROW AMERICA Act. Specifically, we're enthused over GROW AMERICA's inclusion of a dedicated freight program that would invest US$10 billion over four years. We see this as an essential blueprint, or business plan, to invest in a national freight network. A dedicated freight program will help leverage existing infrastructure assets for additional private sector investment.

It's also important to note that the GROW AMERICA proposal has a discretionary component for targeted infrastructure investments, as well as formula funds for all states with a state freight plan. With these components in place, it better enables states to invest in and build freight networks that feed into the national freight plan.

Americas infrastructureAt AAPA's Annual Convention in Houston, vice president Joe Biden (left) again signaled the Obama Administration's desire to grow the economy and create more jobs by making critical investments in the nation's infrastructure. This includes investments to improve the safe and efficient movement of freight across all modes of transportation, including the roads, rails and navigation channels that connect with our nation's ports.

Also at AAPA's annual convention we announced the release of the first module of a new go-to manual, called the Port Planning and Investment Toolkit, aimed at helping U.S. port authorities plan and pay for critical infrastructure projects.

Developed in collaboration between AAPA, the U.S. Department of Transportation's Maritime Administration (MARAD), and port industry experts, the first module of the toolkit, called the Funding Strategy guide, provides a comprehensive resource to identify best practices and innovative ways to fund and finance major port capital improvements. The analytical tools and guidance contained in this multi-faceted resource are designed to aid ports in developing "investment-grade" project plans to attract public and private investment dollars.

AAPA will continue to work with the Administration, Congress and stakeholders in helping shape a national freight network. In AAPA's soon-to-be-released Port Surface Transportation Infrastructure Survey, early results show that 70 percent of AAPA-member ports have participated in the development of their statewide freight plans and 70 percent are on state freight advisory boards. Preliminary results have also identified 20 port-related Projects of National & Regional Significance, 24 port-supported intermodal projects and 20 potential TIGER projects that need federal funding. Furthermore, in a recent Build America request for public-private partnership (P3) projects, more than 20 port P3 projects were submitted.

As we begin to make strategic investments in our freight network and plan for success, we must look at intermodal connectors between surface transportation networks and ports. These connectors account for roughly 1,200 of the 57,000 miles of the national highway system. Many of these connectors are in disrepair and face additional wear-and-tear from increasing trade volumes.

Connectors are a critical link in the efficient movement of freight and cannot be overlooked. As we plan to make investments in our freight network, we must also prioritize access points and address choke points throughout the network.

Please join AAPA and its members in urging Congress and the Administration to pass a robust surface transportation authorization that prioritizes freight mobility and intermodal access to seaports.

- Kurt Nagle is president and CEO of the American Association of Port Authorities.

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