Acting Maritime Administrator David T. Matsuda made clear how important the nation's ports are to America's prosperity in San Diego on Thursday, February 4, 2010.
"Our seaports are not just places we can count the containers and gauge the strength of our economy. They're key gateways for trade," he said.
Matsuda made those comments during day one of the first-ever Department of Transportation's National Port Summit, held at the San Diego Convention Center.
Port leaders from throughout the United States and officials from the U.S. Maritime Administration, commonly called MARAD, were in attendance. Friday, February 5 will feature a town hall-style meeting led by Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood.
Matsuda thanked the Port of San Diego for hosting the event. He said the goal of the summit was to specifically address issues related to Ports and freight movement.
He noted that "aging infrastructure, declining budgets, growing environmental sustainability and the changing outlook of international trade" are just some of the issues affecting the nation's ports, large and small.
"If we can move goods efficiently, with respect to transportation costs, delivery times, and energy usage, we should try. If we can develop a national strategy to help maximize these efficiencies, we should try," Matsuda said.
MARAD's objective is to learn more about challenges facing the nation's ports.
"Secretary LaHood and I want an opportunity to hear from you, the nation's port community to hear more about your challenges and recommendations."
Port leaders are rallying to have the port system recognized as a distinct and vital coastal and waterway resource that requires protection and preservation at the local, regional and national levels. This includes developing legislation to protect ports, as well as designating funds for vital port infrastructure and transportation projects.
Port of San Diego President and Chief Executive Officer Charles D. Wurster spoke to attendees at the conference.
"As a seafaring nation, dependent on foreign trade, we do not yet treat American ports, large and small as a national system of ports. As a result, there is no mechanism to consistently and effectively address funding for port operations and infrastructure improvements based on system needs," Wurster said.
Three of the Port of San Diego's regional partners also spoke at the summit, including Laurie Berman of Caltrans, Gary Gallegos, Executive Director of the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) and Fred Harris, President/CEO of General Dynamics/NASSCO. They explained how their local-interagency cooperation has helped in the planning and funding of freight transportation projects in San Diego.
"Now is the right time to consider highway, railroads and ports together so that the nation's ports are included in these funding mechanisms," said Wurster. "Our port is just on in the nationwide system of ports that make up the Marine Transportation Highway."
Attendees took part in three panel presentations focusing on topics including National Freight Policy and Planning, Shifting to a More Environmentally Sustainable Transportation System and System Infrastructure Requirements.
On Friday, Feb. 5, Secretary LaHood will discuss challenges and opportunities in marine transportation in a town hall-style discussion. The Port of San Diego will host a harbor tour following Secretary LaHood's discussion. The tour will give summit attendees an up-close view into the Port of San Diego's operations.