Port directors from across the nation talked face-to-face with United States Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood on Friday, February 5, 2010, at the San Diego Convention Center.
LaHood attended a special town hall morning session of the first-ever National Port Summit. The event was organized by the Department of Transportation and the Maritime Administration (commonly called MARAD) and hosted by the Port of San Diego. Port leaders expressed concerns about funding for infrastructure improvements and for the sustainability of their maritime facilities in the years ahead.
"I really came here to listen. I want to take your recommendations, and see how we can provide the leadership at the Department of Transportation to really implement the things you think are important," LaHood said to the crowd of 180 attendees. "I think this is a historic opportunity to move forward."
He heard from representatives from dozens of port authorities across the nation, including Guam, about infrastructure problems, port security, environmental issues, and intense international shipping competition.
Calling ports "the real economic engines of America," LaHood said he is committed to working with ports, large and small, as well as inland waterway ports. He asked the attendees and acting Maritime Administrator David T. Matsuda to work together and identify their top priorities, which he vowed to take straight to Congress.
"We need a national port policy that can compete with (Canada) and other people around the world," LaHood said. "We're not trying to reinvent the wheel here. Congress is trying to pass a bill on transportation and you all ought to be in the mix on that. I think
we'll find a path forward."
LaHood also discussed the importance of TIGER grants, which are federal funds allocated in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 by the Obama Administration. The grants are designed to preserve and create jobs, promote economic recovery, prompt investment in transportation infrastructure that will provide long-term economic benefits and assist those most affected by the current economic downturn.
At the start of Friday's session, Matsuda briefed LaHood on the topics discussed at day one of the summit.
That included challenges and recommendations identified following three panel presentations: National Freight Policy and Planning, Shifting to a More Environmentally Sustainable Transportation System and System Infrastructure Requirements.
"Ports need help in simplifying the federal processes in several key areas and have identified a need for federal support to maintain, modernize and expand port facilities, channel access and intermodal connectors," Matsuda said.
Robert "Dukie" Valderrama, Chairman of the Board of Port Commissioners also addressed the group.
"This conference is vital for ports throughout the U.S. It gives port leaders the opportunity to work among ourselves. We need to work together in order to make our ports grow. We're very honored to be able to host the very first one right here in San Diego," Valderrama said.
City of San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders and Rep. Susan Davis (D-Calif) also attended the summit. Matsuda said his next steps are to work with a team to formally submit input from the Summit to Secretary LaHood and the Obama Administration on policy proposals that will reflect ports from all across the country.