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Biden backs harbor deepening, terminal renovations

Author: Liz Segrist

Source: Charleston Regional Business Journal

February 19, 2015

Vice President Joe Biden said in Charleston today that deepening of Charleston Harbor and investment in the Wando Welch Terminal so it can handle bigger ships are vital infrastructure projects to support South Carolina’s economy and manufacturing base.

“You export $8 billion in vehicles; $1.5 billion in turbo jets, turbines and propellers; $1.2 billion in plastics and polymers; and 250,000 BMWs in the belly of these ships to go around the world to be sold — all made here in America. ... In order to keep this momentum going, we have to invest right here and all around the country,” Biden said.

Biden and U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx met with Charleston Mayor Joe Riley, Mount Pleasant Mayor Linda Page, U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford, S.C. State Ports Authority CEO Jim Newsome and Ports Authority Board Chairman Bill Stern to tour the terminal and discuss infrastructure needs.

On his second visit to Charleston in two years, Biden talked about the importance of federal, state and local governments investing in infrastructure projects to deepen ports, improve roads and bridges and expand rail lines nationwide to support industry growth and job creation.

The visit was also to promote President Barack Obama’s $478 billion Grow America Act plan, a four-year surface transportation reauthorization bill that includes $87 billion for the Highway Trust Fund to address the nation’s deficient bridges and aging highways, according to Foxx and the U.S. Transportation Department.

The U.S. transportation system moves 52 billion tons of goods worth $46 billion every day but ranks 28th globally for transportation and infrastructure investment, Biden said.

Biden said investing in U.S. infrastructure has to be a priority to create jobs and reshore manufacturing work. He advocated for changing the corporate tax from 35% to 28% and eliminating corporate tax loopholes, which he said would generate an estimated $200 billion.

This funding could be used for projects around the country and to make Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grants permanent funding sources for infrastructure projects, Biden said.

S.C. agencies received about $21 million in Tiger grants last year, including nearly $11 million to the S.C. State Ports Authority to fund infrastructure improvements at the Wando Welch Terminal in Mount Pleasant.

The estimated $80 million terminal renovation project will strengthen the terminal’s cranes and pilings to accommodate the wear and tear from the larger ships expected to flood the East Coast after the Bayonne Bridge between New York and New Jersey is raised and the Panama Canal expansion is completed by 2016. Post-Panamax ships already call on the Port of Charleston weekly.

The ports authority will fund the remaining $70 million for the Wando terminal project. Work is expected to begin this year and last for about 2 1/2 years. The terminal will remain open during construction, according to port spokeswoman Erin Dhand.

Biden said he believes the Port of Charleston could be deepened to 54 feet and that he thinks the project will get federal funding to do so. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Charleston District, and ports authority are working toward 52 feet.

Newsome said Biden’s visit and the Grow America initiative show that the Port of Charleston’s deepening project will likely qualify for the federal share, about $200 million. The S.C. Legislature has set aside about $300 million for the deepening.

“This administration is promoting port deepening and our project is a signature project for them. ... We really want to emphasize to the federal government that the federal government needs to uptake its share of the deepening project,” Newsome said.

Biden said that while harbor deepening projects and port terminal improvements are crucial to supporting industry, those efforts rely on congestion-free highways, improved roads and bridges and more robust rail networks to benefit companies looking to transport their goods faster and less expensively.

“In order to keep momentum going, we need to invest more right here and all around the country,” Biden said. “We have to invest in our roads, our bridges, our rails, our waterways, our connectors, that connect all these ports.”

Reach staff writer Liz Segrist at 843-849-3119 or @lizsegrist on Twitter.



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