Infrastructure Coordination: Competing Globally, Acting Locally

By Lori Musser


It is a tall order. Nations rely on seaports to improve national competitiveness, respond to rapid shifts in global trade and transportation, and generate economic growth.

The fact that almost every operational, infrastructure and communication element at every port and inland link in the U.S. is owned by the private sector or state or local government entities, creates a paradox: to compete globally, solutions must be put in place locally.

Maze of Contacts

How do ports with finite resources develop world-class infrastructure locally? They start with master plans. They analyze trends and supply and demand, retain flexibility to address change, and then design and engineer and construct. And they pursue two-way communication with stakeholders every step of the way.

Ram Kancharla, Port Tampa Bay’s vice president of economic development and planning and a member of the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Advisory Committee on Supply Chain Competitiveness, said, “The efficiency and productivity of seaport infrastructure and its connections to inland transportation systems is crucial to a nation’s ability to successfully compete in the global marketplace and promote its domestic economy. While the industry continues to call for national level commitment to resolving issues of seaport and supply chain infrastructure deficiencies, the bulk of the coordination activity is being accomplished at a state and local level.”

In Tampa, for example, ongoing port outreach encompasses port tenants and customers, the maritime community, Florida Department of Transportation, chambers of commerce and partnerships, the EDC, state and federal partners, environmental regulators and groups, business leaders, consulates, private and public transportation entities, research think tanks, the MPO, and, importantly, the general community and neighbors.

Keeping such diverse stakeholders in the loop is a priority. Port Tampa Bay recently unveiled two major infrastructure development plans: its Channel District Vision Plan lays out port expenditures set to kindle about $2 billion in public and private infrastructure projects, and its Vision 2030 Port Tampa Bay master plan includes roughly $1.5 billion in port investment, including expansions at its various port properties at Port Redwing, East Port and Hooker’s Point. “We have a very bold vision through to 2030. We have a strong port director who believes in visioning, planning ahead, and a strong team to implement the strategy. Executing these plans successfully requires more than high levels of investment. It requires exceptional planning, innovation and working closely with the community,” said Kancharla.

The Process Discipline – From Cradle to Grave

The nomenclature may vary from port to port, but most seaports have instituted infrastructure processes that govern capital project planning and development.

In Houston, Rich Byrnes, chief infrastructure officer for the port authority, said that the path to effective project coordination lies in applying a process discipline.

For all proposed infrastructure projects, the Port of Houston Authority begins by framing the opportunity within the context of supply and demand and other market variables. The port facilitates fundamental discussions about value, costs and risks. If there is merit, the port will generate and evaluate feasible alternatives. “There are always multiple ways to get something done. For example, you can rebuild a fender system with a less expensive, less durable product, or you can choose a more expensive but longer lasting solution. In the end, the port must decide what is going to create the most value and allow the best stewardship of capital resources,” said Byrnes. He added, “We examine emerging technologies, and the reliability of information streams. We base decisions on best available information.” Logic, and understanding clear tradeoffs, is an important part of the process. Byrnes said that ports have to ensure decisions are not made on an emotional basis, and that all stakeholders are aligned and have a commitment to action.

The next step in the process is design, engineering and construction. Byrnes cautions that there must be flexibility here, to adapt the project to the market without the scope of work creeping inordinately, find the right company to do the work, and time the delivery correctly. After the asset is put in place, operating/maintenance responsibilities kick in, and port management must take a look back to document lessons learned. Byrnes said, “We have to ensure that we are continuously improving. This process is about an integrative, collaborative culture. It is about spending money in the wisest way, and providing infrastructure just ahead of need.”

Houston’s READY value system – which underscores a culture of respect, excellence, accountability, diligence and “you” – helps facilitate decision quality that leads to successful infrastructure. Byrnes emphasized the “you” in the mantra: “It is about inclusivity. Nothing gets done without our community of stakeholders.”

The Port of Houston Authority oversees roughly $200 million in infrastructure projects each year. Its 10-year capital investment plan exceeds $2 billion….

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