The first major address Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood made to a freight group came shortly after taking office when he spoke to the American Association of Port Authorities. A year later, he says ports still play a prominent role in national transportation planning.
The administration hosted a summit of port leaders last month in San Diego, and LaHood said the meeting highlights the important place ports have in setting the country’s transportation agenda. He said he told port officials he will create “a committee of these port representatives that work with us in having a very strong port policy.”
More immediately, the DOT’s role in the administration’s plans to boost U.S. exports will run through seaports, he said.
“What I’ve tried to do in the last 13 months is promote ports . . . Our role will be to make sure we know that when we are promoting ports, we know we are promoting trade. Whether it’s expansion, or adding capacity, however you want to characterize it, we know the ports play a key role so those goods can come in and go out of the country,” he said.
Domestic shipping also will figure into port policies, he said, as the administration presses environmental efforts.
“I want to utilize (ports) to help us get into the marine highway. We can use the waterways along the ports to take trucks off the road. So I think we’ve made progress with freight rail, and I think we’re going to make even more progress with the ports, following onto the port summit we had,” said LaHood, who is to deliver the keynote address on the second day of The Journal of Commerce’s seventh annual North American Marine Highways & Logistics Conference in Baltimore April 7-8.
That wasn’t evident in the administration’s proposed budget for fiscal 2011, which calls for no funds for marine highways programs. Still, LaHood said, “We’re committed to our marine highways as a way to enhance our ports, and I’m going to continue to talk about it . . . We’re going to make sure the people at the ports understand the marine highway is an alternative, and a good alternative, to getting trucks off the road, to cleaning up the air and to using the waterways in a way that can make the marine highway a very effective program.”