Florida Gov. Rick Scott is providing a model of what one state government can do to promote maritime trade. With his backing, Florida’s public and private sectors are teaming up to position the Port of Miami and Port Everglades as new gateways into the U.S. Southeast and transshipment hubs for the Western Hemisphere once the expanded Panama Canal opens in 2015.
When the Republican governor took office last year, he put state money where his mouth is — in port investments that will create thousands of port-related jobs. Scott redirected $77 million in state Department of Transportation funding last year to cover the federal share of the $180 million cost of deepening Miami’s harbor to 50 feet until Washington gets around to reimbursing the state. The state already had committed $37.5 million toward the project, and Miami-Dade County committed another $37.5 million.
In addition to the harbor deepening, which will start later this year and finish in 2014, the Port of Miami is building a truck tunnel underneath Biscayne Bay that will move up to a million truckloads a year off the city’s congested streets by enabling trucks to drive directly to and from I-95 and the port.
Together with a federal TIGER grant and state and local funding, Florida East Coast Railway is rehabilitating a hurricane-damaged rail bridge that will carry its trains directly to a new on-dock intermodal container facility at the port. FEC also is building an on-dock rail ramp at Port Everglades.
With more than $1 billion in investments, Miami could move into the top ranks of U.S. East Coast ports and compete with Charleston and Savannah for a share of the Southeast markets. FEC CEO Jim Hertwig aims to steal a march on Savannah and Charleston by moving import containers from the Port of Miami to Jacksonville, where they can switch to CSX or Norfolk Southern trains for transport farther north.
“We can offer rail connectivity to 70 percent of the U.S. population,” he said on a recent media tour aboard FEC’s private business cars from Jacksonville to Miami. “We can get a container offloaded at Miami to Atlanta in less time than it will take a ship to get from Miami to Savannah.” He also aims to capture more export cargo from ports farther north.
Hertwig says he can compete with the Charleston and Savannah gateways into the Southeast or with landbridge from the West Coast ports by offering lower intermodal rates to Atlanta, Charlotte and other cities. Although Florida has the fourth-largest U.S. population, 62 percent of its imports come in by landbridge. As a result, FEC now moves only one container north for every four containers moving south. Hertwig figures he can offer low rates on the backhaul to the north that will help Miami and Port Everglades become new gateways to the Southeast, not to mention Florida itself.
If he succeeds, FEC, the state and the two ports will have forged a new paradigm for public-private partnerships.