The International Port of Memphis played host to a handful of influential guests Friday, June 21, just as the city and its partners are seeking a large federal grant to help expand the industrial area.
Five members from Congress serving on the Panel on 21st Century Freight Transportation, a special panel of the U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, toured Presidents Island Friday, getting a glimpse of operations at the nation’s fourth-largest inland port. The panel’s recommendations will be considered for inclusion in future committee legislation.
U.S. Rep. John J. Duncan Jr., R-Tenn., chairman of the panel, joined U.S. Reps. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., Rick Crawford, R-Ark., Daniel Lipinski, D-Ill., Daniel Webster, R-Fla., and Markwayne Mullin, R-Okla. on a guided tour of Presidents Island.
“This is the first time in my 23 years at the Port Commission to have the opportunity to discuss Mississippi River-related issues with such a geographically diversified group of representatives,” said Randy Richardson, executive director of the Memphis and Shelby County Port Commission.
Richardson said the tour was a result of increased interest by the government in freight movement efficiency and water transportation.
“The attention to the river systems is coming from multiple fronts,” Richardson said. “There has been an emphasis from the Obama administration to promote water transportation. This emphasis, combined with the economic losses caused by the disastrous flood of 2011 and the drought of 2012, have highlighted the importance of the inland rivers systems as (a) major provider of goods and services to the United States and the world.”
While not directly tied to the expansion effort, the congressional visit comes as the Port Commission has applied for a $35.3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation. Cargill, Canadian National Railway, the city of Memphis, Shelby County and the state will contribute $34.2 million to expand rail service on the island, which could open up another 1,500 acres there for development.
“This is the first time in my 23 years at the Port Commission ... to discuss Mississippi River-related issues with such a geographically diversified group of representatives.”
–Randy Richardson, Port Commission
Work on the rail portion of the Presidents Island Intermodal Expansion Project could begin in August and be finished in July 2015, adding around 80,000 linear feet of new railroad tracks on Presidents Island.
The massive project would link existing rail to a new rail system that would encircle 1,500 acres of undeveloped land and would include moving 3.4 million cubic yards of dirt to help create an embankment to support the new rail.
“The project delivers a much needed rail capacity expansion and provides considerable public benefits and economic opportunities that will make the project one of local, regional and national significance,” said a summary of the grant request.
Presidents Island, a 960-acre man-made industrial park, already has 54 facilities with harbor capabilities, 30,000 annual rail car movements, 138 businesses and provides an annual economic impact of $7.1 billion. In 2011, 12.6 million tons of shipments were moved in and out of the port.
Part of the impetus for the rail project is the fluctuating waters of the Mississippi River. When the water is particularly high or low, ground and river transportation is reduced and companies turn to rail, intensifying rail congestion on Presidents Island.
“The movement of goods across our nation may not always grab headlines, but the efficiency of freight transportation impacts the lives of every American on a daily basis,” Duncan said.
“Transportation accounts for up to 10 percent of a product’s total cost, so bottlenecks and limitations in our transportation system can significantly drive up the cost of everything we buy,” he said. “By coming to Memphis, an important hub for U.S. freight transport, the panel was able to see firsthand how efficiencies can be replicated and where challenges continue to exist throughout our national transportation system.”
The congressional panel also toured FedEx Corp.’s world hub and crossed the river to West Memphis to meet with representatives of the Arkansas and Tennessee transportation and business communities to discuss challenges facing the freight transportation industry.
“I am looking forward to continuing the panel’s work to improve how freight is moved in corridors such as these and what Washington can do to ensure that with limited resources these corridors can continue being a key component in global commerce,” Duncan said.