Members of the US maritime industry have expressed mixed reactions to the White House’s newly-released US$ 200 million 10-year national infrastructure rebuilding plan.
The release of the modernization proposal on January 12, 2018 has “encouraged” the American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA), an organization representing many of the stakeholders, however, representatives from the US’s waterways and barges are casting doubt on the federal support.
Where federal infrastructure initiatives often allocate government funds for investments, the Trump administration’s plan would replace some traditional federal programs with incentives aimed at pushing state and local governments to raise their own funds.
In response, some waterways operators have complained that it would leave inland commercial users paying higher taxes, fees and tolls for running state-managed inland navigations systems — costs that far exceed their trust funds.
Many stakeholders within the US’s inland waterways were strong supporters of the president’s election because he promised major improvements to the country’s lock and dam infrastructure.
Mike Toohey, President and CEO of the Waterways Council Inc. (WCI), an industry-supported advocacy group for waterways funding, said the plan showed “a clear disconnect from the encouraging rhetoric made by President Trump”.
He stated: “The administration infrastructure proposal actually seems to mean that commercial operators and shippers are the only ones who will be expected to pay, and significantly more, for the nation’s waterways transportation system, despite being just one beneficiary of the lock and dam system.”
The news also struck the same chord with Chris Spear, Chief of the American Trucking Associations, who said that the proposal fell short of the president’s campaign promise “to go big and bold”.
One of the projects affected by the plan is a US $973 million dredging scheme which is deepening the Savannah harbour.
Trump has requested a $49 million installment toward deepening the Port of Savannah shipping channel in Georgia, but this is half the federal money that state officials believe the project needs in order to avoid construction delays.
Like many East Coast ports, Savannah needs funding to create deeper water to accommodate larger cargo ships arriving through the expanded Panama Canal.
Griff Lynch, Executive Director, Georgia Ports Authority, has shown optimism about receiving the funding through other Government agency spending later this year.
He said: “I’m hoping we can get the money we need for this year. It’s still $100 million, so we’re still short. But the project continues to progress and we’re feeling confident.”
Image: Port of Savannah
Kurt Nagle, President and CEO, AAPA, stated that he was “pleased” that the White House was making the rebuilding of US ports and waterways a “priority” this year.
He said: “With freight volume projected to grow 45% over the next two decades, our country needs world-class ports and modern infrastructure to remain competitive and ensure that American goods are able to reach vital global markets.
“Failure to modernize the nation’s infrastructure could lead to a $4 trillion loss of GDP by 2025, and increase the costs of consumer products by $14 billion.
“For these reasons – and the jobs and communities sustained by U.S. ports – we are encouraged by this important step toward modernization that will support our manufacturers, exporters, farmers and employees who count on a strong national infrastructure to keep America moving.”
Read more: The American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA), the collective and unified voice of America’s seaports, has sent Port of Cleveland President and CEO William Friedman to testify for a fund of US$ 66 billion over the next decade for America’s public ports