Opinions

Our ports need investment now

Alaska, which receives 90% of its freight through maritime commerce and with more coastline than the entire Lower 48 combined, would stand to benefit from a thoughtfully crafted federal infrastructure package supporting ports and harbors. Alaska is ready to invest in projects which will advance its competitive standing and better serve its interests regionally and internationally.

Serving major Department of Defense installations and more than 80% of the state’s population from Anchorage to Fairbanks, the Port of Alaska (POA) in Anchorage modernization requires excess of $800 million. Alaska is home to 17 of the top 100 US commercial fishing ports, and federal funding would be a boon to municipal small boat harbors, as state funding opportunities are chaotic and have waned significantly due to fiscal constraints.

Tourism is the largest private industry in Southeast Alaska, with the vast majority arriving via cruise ship. The first electrified cruise ship dock in the world was commissioned in 2001 in Juneau, and ports are planning for more dock electrification. Leveraging private and federal funding will enable ports-of-call to update facilities to develop Alaska cruise destinations that are environmentally sustainable and set the bar for other world ports to follow.

American consumers, retailers and farmers nationwide are feeling the impact of a global supply chain under severe strain. Everything from refrigerators to bikes are taking longer to reach our shores from overseas manufacturers, and domestic companies are running short of components and raw materials to keep up with demand. In addition to a global container shortage and the effects of the pandemic, many of today’s delays and shortages are the consequence of decades of underinvestment in maritime infrastructure — playing out in warehouses, storefronts and households in real time.

While the current disruptions will lessen over time, global trade volumes are forecast to increase, leaving U.S. ports in need of significant and sustained investment now to ensure the nation’s freight gateways are modern, resilient and competitive at a global scale.

For a sizable first step in upgrading our trade infrastructure, Congress should pass the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework, which is slated to include $16.5 billion for ports and waterways. This infusion of federal dollars will also unlock private financing and preserve the U.S. port industry’s position as a major job-creator and economic powerhouse. This Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework is one on which everyone agrees — businesses and labor, retailers and manufacturers, truckers and shippers — that port infrastructure is essential hard infrastructure.

Maritime ports create $5.4 trillion in economic activity annually, representing 26% of U.S. GDP. Ports are also responsible for 30.8 million direct, induced, and indirect jobs.

Ports are vital to the nation’s global trade. They connect U.S. farmers and manufacturers to world markets and provide critical medical and consumer supplies for health care providers, retailers and households every day. Efficient ports help America compete as nations across the globe build larger ships and bigger, better facilities to accommodate them.

America needs a 21st-century freight movement system, and our country has an opportunity to invest now and realize exponential returns. Every dollar invested in port infrastructure produces $2 to $3 of economic growth, based on an analysis by the U.S. Committee on the Marine Transportation System.

In the meantime, the reality is that America’s ports need repairs, improvements and updates. Freight volumes may double by 2045, according to the Department of Transportation, leaving our maritime infrastructure in danger of lagging behind countries like China in terms of our ability to handle more ships and efficiently move freight and materials.

To support our nation’s coastal ports and maritime industry, The Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework will be a great first steps towards the overall requests of the port industry:

• $20 billion for coastal port infrastructure and intermodal freight movement connectors.

• $6 billion for the U.S. Army Corps to repair and restore navigation channels and 140 critically deficient coastal navigation structures that are essential for safe and efficient freight movement.

• Billions of dollars to support offshore wind energy. These funds are critical to strengthen docks for storage, assembly, and transport of offshore wind energy components.

• Robust funding for electrification of dockside ship connections and zero/near-zero emission port equipment.

Yes, it’s real money, but the stakes are high. As we recover from a crippling pandemic, we can’t afford a widening infrastructure gap with our competitors. Further disruption will only continue to hurt the American economy.

Carl J. Uchytil, P.E., is the Port Director of the Port of Juneau and former President of the Alaska Association of Harbormasters and Port Administrators. Mario Cordero is Executive Director of the Port of Long Beach, California, Chair of the American Association of Port Authorities and former Chairman of the Federal Maritime Commission. Chris Connor is President and CEO of the American Association of Port Authorities and former Global CEO of Wallenius Wilhemsen Logistics.

The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)adn.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Read our full guidelines for letters and commentaries here.