Time to fast-track infrastructure legislation

Time to fast-track infrastructure legislation
© Getty Images

As the largest port by tonnage in the Western Hemisphere, the Port of South Louisiana plays a critical role in the free flow of goods between the United States and our trading partners across the globe. In Louisiana, our port system is responsible for more than 500,000 jobs and $182 billion dollars of annual global economic output. Combined, the five deep-water ports along the Mississippi River, in Louisiana, create the largest port complex in the world. 

While we are proud of these accomplishments in Louisiana, the pace of worldwide commerce is non-stop. To meet the requirements of international trade, a well-maintained infrastructure is paramount.

ADVERTISEMENT

Our ports, highways, roads, rivers, railroads, airports and other touchpoints of intermodal transportation must constantly be repaired, updated and rebuilt. Undeniably, if not properly maintained, our infrastructure could become unreliable — slowing the free-flow of goods and making America less competitive in the global marketplace. 

This is why we are encouraging Congress to pass the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation reauthorization bill (FAST Act) and for the president to sign this important legislation.

Since enacted in 2015, and by the end of 2020 — when the FAST Act is set to expire — the law will have contributed $305 billion dollars to build and maintain America’s surface transportation infrastructure.

To be clear, the FAST Act is separate from the comprehensive infrastructure bill that the president and Congress have discussed. Unlike that proposed legislation, unless the FAST Act is reauthorized, before the end of next year, this critical source of infrastructure funding could dry up and jeopardize America’s thriving economy. 

While we are a seaport, the Port of South Louisiana and our customers are heavily reliant on surface transportation. The modern global supply chain relies on all areas of multimodal — land, air and sea — to meet the demands of our modern societies. 

Because every part of the supply chain is so interconnected, all inefficiencies in our nation’s infrastructure, impact the ability of American ports to be profitable. Infrastructure weaknesses also give an advantage to our foreign competitors. This is why reauthorization of the FAST Act is so important. 

ADVERTISEMENT

As Congress and the Administration consider the FAST Act, they should also look at including provisions to improve America’s Marine Highway — over 25,000 miles of interconnected waterways that are spread out across America, used to transport goods. By improving these waterways, we can increase waterborne traffic, thereby reducing the number of trucks on our roads, easing wear on America’s streets and highways and cutting pollution. This is especially critical on the Mississippi River, where improvements to our aging systems of locks and dams are badly needed. 

FAST Act reauthorization is also important, because it can help seaports continue to grow. In the last few decades, maritime cargo volumes have increased massively. 

Between 1956 and 2017, total U.S. waterborne tonnage roughly doubled, which is due almost entirely to U.S. foreign trade growth which has seen nearly a 500 percent increase during that time frame. In the last 17 years alone, container volumes have increased by 71 percent, passengers through our cruise port terminals increased by 98 percent, and total foreign trade in short tons increased by 37 percent.

Just how important are America’s seaports to our economy?

In his recent testimony before the Senate Commerce Committee, the Chairman of the American Association of Port Authorities, said: “International trade through seaports accounts for over a quarter of the U.S. GDP…[seaports] handle approximately $6 billion worth of import and export goods daily, generate over 30 million jobs, and provide more than $378 billion annually in federal, state and local tax revenues.”

Simply put, failing to reauthorize the FAST Act, risks the economic engine that drives Louisiana and our nation. In fact, more than 60 percent of all grain exported from the United States is shipped via the Mississippi River. Indeed, the Mississippi River Basin produces 92 percent of the nation’s agricultural exports and 78 percent of the world’s exports of feed grains and soybeans. Every year, over $21 billion in agriculture exports are shipped through Louisiana’s port system; shipments grew rapidly in 2017 and 2018

We hope Congress and the president, can work together in a bipartisan way, to recognize the importance of maintaining our nation’s transportation infrastructure. Reauthorizing the FAST Act will improve the movement of goods across our transportation infrastructure, helping to preserve and maintain the lifeblood of our nation’s economy. 

At the Port of South Louisiana, Paul Aucoin is the Executive Director and D. Paul Robichaux is the President and Chairman of the Board of Commissioners.