Is the recession over? Or not? You’re sure to find experts to support either case. Regardless, we can learn from the past in order to create tremendous opportunities for the future.
Just prior to the recession, one thing was clear to those who depend on transportation to get their commodities to market: Our transportation systems are grossly inadequate. With traffic volumes reaching a peak between 2005 and 2007, our roadway, river and rail systems were not equipped to meet the needs of our highly trade-dependent state. Ships were leaving cargo on the docks due to shallow draft restrictions, rail service was unpredictable due to high congestion, and roadway travel was stalled on many major interstates. However, the recession rolled back the clock to give us time to prepare for the future.
In 2010, after more than 20 years of planning and permitting, the Columbia River channel was deepened from 40 to 43 feet. While 3 feet may not seem like much, it allows vessels loaded with heavy agricultural and mineral commodities to sail with larger cargo loads, resulting in fewer voyages and lower per ton costs.
With a public investment of $180 million in a deeper channel, we have seen private corporations invest nearly $1billion in facilities on the Columbia River, primarily to support the export market to Asia. These exports include wheat, corn, soybeans, potash and potentially coal.
Likewise, the Port of Vancouver has been very strategic in preparing for the economic recovery. We are more than 50 percent complete on our $275 million rail infrastructure investment, the West Vancouver Freight Access project. In 2005, many of our tenants were unable to receive efficient rail service due to mainline congestion. Many began to discuss leaving the port or ceasing business altogether.
Instead, due to the port’s investment in rail infrastructure, more than $500 million of private investment is planned at the port. Some of this investment is from existing companies expanding their business, including United Grain Corp. and Great Western Malting. Others are new companies including BHP Billiton, Farwest Steel and the Tesoro Savage Joint Venture. The investments by these private corporations are creating short-term construction jobs and long-term permanent jobs in our community.
Regarding our roadways, we still have much work ahead. Our interstate system remains congested in many of our metropolitan areas. Congestion today is costing millions in wasted fuel and productivity.
We must find solutions that reduce congestion and allow the efficient movement of freight through our state, where 40 percent of jobs are dependent on trade. The health and vibrancy of our community depends on it. Failure is not an option.
So, back to my first question: Is the recession over? There are signs that the answer is yes. Companies are investing along the Columbia River, at the Port of Vancouver and in our community, thus creating more jobs, more income and more tax dollars that support our public services. And companies that invest here are companies that intend to stay in our community for the long term — a very good thing.
Todd Coleman is CEO of the Port of Vancouver USA.