Ports in the U.S. Southeast and the Gulf, the regions that will be most heavily impacted by the expansion of the Panama Canal, lack the capacity to handle post-Panamax ships, the Army Corps of Engineers said Thursday in a report to Congress.
The report, “U.S. Port and Inland Waterways Modernization: Preparing for Post-Panamax Vessels,” said the U.S. will have to find a way to fund the deepening of harbors at some Southeast and Gulf ports to remain competitive in global trade.
But it raised concerns about finding the funds necessary for the dredging projects “due to overall economic and fiscal conditions and concerns about the deficit.” It called for a new approach to the public and private financing of such strategically critical maritime infrastructure projects.
The corps, which currently has 17 studies investigating the opportunity to invest in deep-draft ports, said it has identified the economic viability of the estimated $652 million cost of deepening Savannah harbor to 47 feet.
It’s possible that several of the remaining studies will also show economic viability, the corps said. “If so, the challenge will be to fund these investments,” the report said.
Inland waterway locks and dams will also need more investment to take advantage of the expanded canal as a route for U.S. exports to Asia and the west coast of Latin America. “This emphasizes the strategic need to address the revenue challenge within the Inland Waterway Trust Fund.”
The report, conducted by the corps’ Institute for Water Resources in Alexandria, Va., said, “It is critical that the U.S. develop and move forward with a strategic vision for a globally competitive navigation system that sets the context for ensuring adequate investment in maintaining current waterside infrastructure and also facilitates the strategic targeting of investments to ensure the U.S. is ready for post-Panamax vessels and “cascade” fleet deployments consistent with the growth in global trade that is anticipated over the next 20 years.
“This underscores the need to consider new and innovative public and private funding sources and financing methods with long-term reliability that can finance the navigation system maintenance and expansion that will be necessary to ensure a globally competitive U.S. navigation system,” it said.