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  April 18th, 2016 | Written by

U.S. Ports Plan Big Investments in Capital Projects

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  • Ports plan to spend $155 billion on port-related infrastructure over the next five years.
  • The planned $155 billion investment in U.S. ports represents a three-fold increase from five years ago.
  • U.S. government investments in port infrastructure through 2020 is projected at $24.8 billion.

In its recently released 2016-2020 Port Planned Infrastructure Investment Survey, the American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA) asked its U.S. member ports how much they and their private-sector partners plan to spend on port-related freight and passenger infrastructure over the next five years. The answer was $154.8 billion.

AAPA then contrasted that number with what it believes is the “best-case” scenario for investments by the federal government into U.S. ports, including their landside and waterside connections, through 2020. The answer was $24.8 billion.

The vast difference between the two investment numbers poses tangible concerns, according to AAPA president and CEO Kurt Nagle, particularly considering the need to increase government investments in federal navigation channels and the first and last mile connections with ports. It’s vital, he noted, that the federal government uphold its end of the partnership.

“Infrastructure investments in America’s seaports and their intermodal connections, both on the land and in the water, are in our nation’s best interest because they provide opportunities to bolster our economy, create and sustain jobs, enhance our international competitiveness, and pay annual dividends through the generation of more than $321 billion in federal, state and local tax revenue,” said Nagle. “From a jobs standpoint, goods moved through America’s seaports in 2014 supported employment of more than 23 million U.S. workers, up from 13.3 million in 2007.”

Economist John C. Martin, president of Lancaster, Pa.-based Martin Associates, said U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis formulas show that investing nearly $155 billion in capital projects at U.S. ports would create about 1.6 million direct, indirect, and induced domestic jobs, accounting for approximately 3.3 billion person-hours of work over the period of the investment.

“In 2014, U.S. coastal ports generated $4.6 trillion dollars for the U.S. economy, about 26 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product,” said Martin. “It’s hard to over-emphasize the value of investing in ports, particularly when you factor in how much these investments contribute to our overall economic prosperity, help lower the cost of imports, and make our exports more competitive overseas.”

The combined $155 billion, five-year investment that U.S. ports and their private sector partners are planning represents a more than three-fold increase over the combined $46 billion figure obtained from the same survey five years ago. The biggest project investments will be in ports along the U.S. Gulf Coast, where many new energy processing, production and transfer facilities are being planned.

When reviewing the anticipated five-year federal investment in port-related infrastructure, AAPA found that while there has been progress, the federal government has historically underinvested in the nation’s freight transportation system. America’s road network was only ranked sixteenth in the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report for 2014-15, while federal navigation channels aren’t being adequately maintained.

According to 2012 American Society of Civil Engineers’ (ASCE) report, by 2020 there will be a $15.8 billion investment gap between expected annual federal funding on goods movement infrastructure and what’s needed to effectively maintain the system. ASCE estimated the cost of deficient highways to American businesses will have grown ten-fold between 2010 and 2020, to $276 billion. By 2020, shallow, narrow navigation channels will result in a $9.3-billion annual trade loss to U.S. businesses from the inability of most ports to accommodate today’s larger ships.