P3s and America’s Ports


In a previous post, we reported that the American Society of Civil Engineers (“ASCE”) released its 2013 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure. America’s cumulative GPA for infrastructure was a D+. One of the categories in this report focused on ports, which received a C grade. Now a new report goes into more depth on one particular part of our infrastructure: Ports. The question, it seems, is: CapEx or Capsize. More, after the jump.

ASCE reported that, according to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimates, more than 95% of the volume of overseas trade imported or exported by the United States moves through our ports. The report stressed the importance of improving our nation’s ports in order for the nation to maintain its competitive edge in the global economy: “To sustain and serve a growing economy and compete internationally, our nation’s ports need to be maintained, modernized, and expanded. While port authorities and their private sector partners have planned over $46 billion in capital improvements from now until 2016, federal funding has declined for navigable waterways and landside freight connections needed to move goods to and from the ports.” The inability of the federal government and state governments to fund the necessary improvements to our ports makes a strong case again for the importance of public-private partnerships (“P3s”) in improving our country’s infrastructure.

According to the recent North American Port Analysis report, published by Colliers International in April, America must secure $3.6 trillion in funding by 2020 for the country’s infrastructure in order to improve U.S. ports and to stay competitive in the global market. This is especially true since, as stated in the report, the Panama Canal Expansion is altering global trade patterns, and major trade is shifting from Asia to Latin America, and from America’s West Coast to East Coast/Gulf ports. In subtitling the report CapEx or Capsize, the economists for Colliers International are driving home the importance of investing in the nation’s infrastructure and ports now rather than delay such an essential undertaking. P3s will definitely contribute to this investment.

As exemplified by past projects, ports can greatly benefit from P3s. One example of a very successful P3 project was the 2004 expansion of the Port of Galveston in Galveston, Texas. The Port of Galveston Cruise Terminal Development (the “Project”) was a partnership between the Port of Galveston and several private partners, including CH2M Hill, Royal Caribbean International and Carnival Cruise Lines. In 2002, the private partners submitted an unsolicited proposal to expand the cruise ship services and facilities. The public and private sectors then worked together to fund the project and to provide the necessary facilities on time and within budget. The Port of Galveston benefited from the project because of the increased revenue from growth in related employment and commercial revenues. And the private partners benefited because a greater number of their cruise ships can now utilize the improved port to increase customers and revenues.

On the whole, like many P3 projects, it was a win for both sides. The National Council for Public-Private Partnerships awarded the Project the 2004 NCPPP Infrastructure Award Winner. A more detailed description of this exemplary project can be found here.

Overall, P3s can play a vital role in improving our nation’s infrastructure and assisting our nation to secure the $3.6 trillion necessary to raise our infrastructure GPA from a D+ to a B. P3 projects have proven time and time again that they can be much more efficient and can lower costs. This certainly is a winning combination to turn around our nation’s infrastructure.