Brown: Ports are vital to growth

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 21, 2010

NATCHEZ — For the economy to grow, it has to be able to move.

That was the message Larry L. “Butch” Brown delivered at a press conference as part of the annual American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials Conference.

Brown, executive director of Mississippi Department of Transportation and president of AASHTO, said an investment in transportation projects is vital to stimulate economies nationwide.

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But currently, Brown said, little attention is being paid to the improvements needed to create a transportation infrastructure that can compete on the world level.

“The simple fact is no transportation equals no economy,” he said. “They are inseparable, and right now we have a system that is limping along badly.”

Brown said the transportation system does not deal exclusively with roadway transportation, but includes port facilities, railways and other methods of transportation.

Brown estimated that $6.2 billion was pumped into Mississippi’s economy in 2009 because of activity at the state’s inland and Gulf Coast ports. The state’s port systems also created more than 45,000 jobs in that time frame, Brown said.

Anthony Hauer, director of the Natchez-Adams County Port, said the Mississippi River is an active waterway for the transport of goods throughout the United States.

“Ports such as this one are vital, important to local infrastructure and economies,” he said. “We have a natural, deep water channel that has the ability to operate year round.

“The water is high today and it may be low tomorrow but we’ll never run out of water.”

Currently, Brown said, the United States is third in the nation in terms of economic investments into transportation behind China and India and without a greater federal investment in transportation projects and growth, the country could fall farther down that list.

The current system of rail, water and highway transportation did not account for the type of growth seen in recent years or the growth that will occur in the coming years, Brown said.

“In the next 10 to 12 years truck traffic will double, so clearly we need to increase our capacity,” he said. “We have seen a 150 percent increase in capacity and the current system only allowed for a 15 percent increase in capacity.”

Transportation officials are in a bit of a standstill in terms of continued federal funding as the highway and transit authorization bill is set to expire on Dec. 31.

Susan Martinovich, AASHTO vice president and director of the Nevada Department of Transportation said without a new multi-year authorization of the bill transportation departments nationwide will struggle to maintain and improve transportation modes and implement more modern transportation technology.

“All states are impacted when companies are trying to find better, faster ways to move goods,” she said. “Transportation projects take years to develop, and we need that level of investment to continue.”