May 4, 2015, The Daily News
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee recently signed a bill allowing the Ports of Seattle and Tacoma to virtually combine. This arrangement, to be called the Seaport Alliance, is largely a merger of the two entities.
While we applaud both Inslee and the Legislature for taking this action, it seems overdue. It also provides a small peek into what the future may hold for the Port of Longview.
For any port to be competitive it must provide clients with the most efficient route possible to the end destination. To maximize efficiency and compete in today’s market, ports must have the right types of docks and on-site equipment for handling cargo. Ideally, a port would offer ready access to both rail service and an interstate highway. Quick and easy access equals low cost to shippers.
The ports of Tacoma and Seattle depend largely on container traffic, which accounts for more than one-third of total volume. The ports, however, have found themselves in the position of not having enough berths to accommodate the largest container ships or the right cranes to offload the big ships. Inefficient rail and highway access compounds the problem.
The Sea-Tac ports are now clearly out of alignment with market needs. Container traffic, as a result, has been moving to the British Columbia ports of Vancouver and Prince Rupert. The Alliance ports are operating at a combined 45 percent of capacity, which is unsustainable. To operate at a higher capacity, draw more business and create more jobs these ports will need a big infusion of capital. Without major investments in infrastructure and access, the Alliance ports are expected to lose $1.15 billion in revenue by 2033.
The rival Canadian ports have updated their capabilities and built the road and rail links needed in Washington. As a result, they have seen business grow dramatically.
Now think about SR 432 (Tennant Way) and its importance to the Port of Longview, the port’s undeveloped Barlow Point property and the Columbia riverfront in general. Longview has good deepwater access, but does not have the necessary rail service to meet shippers’ needs. Port administrators also are facing the need to replace or update significant amounts of high-priced heavy equipment in the near future.
One of the keys to long-term economic success for Cowlitz County is a robust and thriving port, but to thrive, we need infrastructure investment. Specifically, improvements to SR 432 can’t and shouldn’t wait. The road and rail aspects of this project go hand-in-hand as several overpasses need to be created to allow for better rail service to the port without increased rail volume blocking road access to the docks.
A final action, which would benefit all Washington ports, would be for state and local officials and business leaders to lean on Union Pacific and BNSF to improve rail crossings along the Columbia River Gorge and to increase rail car and track safety.
Finally, we’ll likely need to stay the course in our support of the Port of Longview as it relates to taxes. Over the next 3 to 5 years the port has the chance to “catch up” in terms of equipment, essential to retaining the ability to grow revenues and profits. Along with infrastructure improvements, these updates would leave the port in a position to grow — with fewer public dollars needed for support.
Those who agree with this vision of the port’s future are urged to get involved, to get better-educated on issues related to the port and to engage in a dialog crucial to Longview’s long-term future. Let’s not end up in an alliance with another port just to stay viable.