Regionalizing three seaports would attract federal funds
By Shannon Pettypiece
Recognizing the strip between Miami and Palm Beach as a high-priority trade corridor would make the regions' three ports, the Florida East Coast Railway and roadways connecting them highly competitive for federal funds during the next two months.
To do this, the region must prove to Congress, which designates such corridors, that South Florida is a vital trade center in need of federal dollars for infrastructure improvements to support its growth.
Looking at the links connecting all three ports as one piece instead of separately is essential to how the ports work, according to a November study by the Florida Department of Transportation.
The Port of Miami is linked to Broward County's Port Everglades in that the two share the Hialeah railyard. The Palm Beach and Miami ports are connected because shipments entering Miami's port are redistributed and moved by truck or train to Port of Palm Beach, where the cargo is placed on smaller ships.
"This is one thing that will get us more funding than anything else we can do," said Regional Transportation Authority member Allen Harper.
Supporting this is a study commissioned by the Port of Palm Beach and the Florida Department of Transportation that found $19 billion in unfunded projects at the three ports.
One area where federal dollars could be put to work is in improving rail operations, according to the study, which found that a use of trains instead of trucks for cargo is the fastest way to avoid congestion.
"Improvements to individual roadways are insufficient to solve regional mobility constraints," said Joan Sanchez-Schnettler, who led the study and has analyzed cargo traffic in the region since 1999. "It is unfair to say that (congestion will be relieved) without rail improvements."
There are 44 corridors nationwide that have been given the federal government's seal of Corridor of National Significance, all of which are in states bordering Canada and Mexico. Those corridors get first dibs on federal transportation money.
Shipping companies using the Port of Miami have long complained that nearby congestion is a deterrent.
"Users such as ourselves are obviously concerned about getting goods from rail facilities to the seaports, and all three seaports in South Florida have been spending hundreds of million of dollars in infrastructure and security improvements," said Bruce Brecheisen, vice president at Seaboard Marine. "But if you can't get the goods to the port in an efficient and timely manner, those investments are reduced."
To make a shift toward rail, there must be an increase in the capacity at Florida East Coast Railway's Hialeah yard, where shipping cargo is transferred from trucks to trains, said Ms. Sanchez-Schnettler. The federal government does not consider Florida a border state, she said, despite its proximity to the Caribbean, and that is preventing it from being one of the high-priority corridors.
Miami-Dade County's Metropolitan Planning Organization supports the bid to get the corridor's federal standing raised, said director Jose-Luis Mesa.
"All of us are supporting the request that it be declared a corridor of national significance," Mr. Mesa said.
This year, the timing may be right with a new regional organization, the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority, leading the fight and a reauthorization of transit funding taking place in Congress that will allocate transit funding for the next six years.
"We have to look at this as though it is not just one piece of the puzzle, but it is the whole thing," Ms. Sanchez-Schnettler said. "These ports do compete, but each of them needs the same opportunities to be efficient, and there is a huge market out there."