While Port of Galveston officials ponder where to find a staggering $250 million needed to update dilapidated facilities at the public docks, national maritime experts say the island is not alone.
American ports will need about $66 billion for infrastructure repairs and investments over the next 10 years, according to a study by the American Association of Port Authorities.
Some of the proposed updates include a $3.3 billion crossing at the Port of Virginia, an $11 billion rail tunnel at the ports of New York and New Jersey, and a $750 million modernization project at the Port of Alaska, among others, according to the study.
“To get these things, there needs to be a federal component and investment,” said John Young, director of freight and surface transportation policy for the American Association of Port Authorities.
Port of Galveston officials have long been hamstrung in attempts to fix infrastructure problems because the port only brings in small profits each year.
The port is projected to bring in only about $250,000 in net income in 2018, according to documents.
Port officials are projecting operating revenues of about $37.4 million in 2018 against operating expenditures of $37.2 million, records show.
While funding is likewise an issue for ports across the nation, the federal component remains the biggest obstacle for infrastructure woes, said Rodger Rees, the island’s new port director.
“A lot of those projects in the early days involved federal funding,” Rees said. “But that federal funding over the last decade is less and less every year. They’re pushing more of the cost of infrastructure out to state and local governments.”
National officials are forced to pass on the costs because most of their budget is now spent dealing with costly dredging operations, Rees said.
The U.S. Coast Guard’s 2017 fiscal budget includes $2.7 billion for operation and maintenance of the nation’s waterways, much of that going toward dredging, records show.
Those tasked with maintaining the channels are further hampered because much of the Harbor Maintenance Tax, a federal fee charged to shippers who pass through U.S. ports, is diverted to other uses, said Joan Mileski, the head of the maritime administration department at Texas A&M University at Galveston.
Texas ports have received less than 25 percent of the revenue collected in the state, Mileski said.
State budgets aren’t equipped to handle the size of port infrastructure projects, Rees said.
“If you look at the state budget, it’s so little compared to how big of a problem this is,” Rees said. “You’re talking $20 million to $30 million per year. That’s good — all money helps — but the problem is in the billions in Texas alone.”
Maritime officials with the American Association of Port Authorities are hopeful that help may be on the horizon, Young said.
“Congress will take up infrastructure and figure out how they want to fund it and if they will fund it,” Young said.
President Donald Trump in his first State of the Union address called on Congress to consider a $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan, with some of that money set aside for port infrastructure.
“That’s why we laid out the $66 billion in infrastructure needs,” Young said.