Beyond the Panama Canal

Even though Florida Ports are again setting records in port-sector job creation, tonnage and throughput value, raising those accomplishments to the next level is their primary objective. Florida’s seaports play an indispensable role in helping the state and nation with their goals to grow the economy using trade and generate more manufacturing jobs.

Opportunities abound today because of the state’s growing consumer demand. World trade is growing overall, world manufacturing centers are repositioning, Suez Canal transits are up, new free trade agreements are being accomplished, the Panama Canal expansion is nearing completion, and trade is growing with Latin America and the Caribbean. Plans and active preparations for future opportunities are paramount to take the economy of the state of Florida from solid to outstanding. Moving Florida’s economy forward goes hand in hand with the increased global trade, growing export manufacturing and improved import distribution that efficient ports and logistical infrastructure help create.

The growth in the world container fleet continues unabated, with close to half the world’s container vessels on order exceed 8,000 TEU capacity (versus less than ten percent of today’s fleet); the modern size requires a 47 to 50 foot deep channel. With 90 percent of the global commerce being moved via shipping, Florida must be ready.

Florida’s ports are working at becoming deeper, but to achieve navigational channels with modern depths requires a more efficient federal project approval and funding process. Directing funds already collected for harbor maintenance through the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund to their proper usage is essential. Federal delays in assessing and approving harbor dredging/navigation projects are seriously jeopardizing, in particular, the ability of seaports to grow the much sought-after general cargo associated with deep-draft vessels.

The next level of economic transformation, the level that will truly bolster Florida’s recovering economy, will only come when the federal government mirrors the state’s commitment and makes fast, upfront investments in port waterways and inland transportation systems that capture today’s fleeting but colossal opportunities.

Federal TIGER grants have been exceptionally helpful to select port projects, and there is hope for a nationally coordinated freight mobility plan that prioritizes the country’s freight network as a national system, including multimodal, intrastate connectivity projects. In general however, there are grave shortcomings in national support for ports, as exemplified by the lack of waterway investment.

There must be regular and reliable support from federal agencies for future port terminals, to prevent infrastructure obsolescence and ensure infrastructure is available to meet national goals for exports, safety, security, and other priorities. This should include support for the appropriate technologies to secure facilities and enhance efficiency.