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Keeping the Port Competitive with Its Rivals

The NJBIZ Interview – Jack LettiereMaking it easier to move goods to and from the Port of New York and New Jersey is a top priority for Jack Lettiere, the new chairman of Nation’sPort, a bi-state coalition dedicated to improving infrastructure at the port. Lettiere, a senior vice president of the Morristown engineering firm Edwards and Kelcey, last year stepped down as commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Transportation. Nation’sPort was founded in 1999 to push for deepening shipping channels in New York Harbor and has since turned its attention to improvements on land. Lettiere spoke with NJBIZ Staff Writer Victoria Hurley-Schubert about the organization’s plans for the port.

NJBIZ: What is Nation’sPort?

Lettiere: It is a group of folks from the business community and government who are advocates and implementers of policy to improve [port] infrastructure so that goods move efficiently throughout the region.

We got the port deepened to 50 feet. Now, because of that success, larger ships are coming into the port and we have the problem of having to move more goods that are coming into the port more efficiently and in a much safer way at less cost. That will require improvements in roads, rail, air and waterborne transportation so that our region doesn’t become overwhelmed with typical truck traffic.

NJBIZ: What is the economic significance of the port?

Lettiere: The goods-movement industry supporting the port supports 240,000 jobs in the state. It doesn’t only support working families in and around the port, but around the state. It also generates about $5.8 billion annually in federal and state taxes .

NJBIZ: How fast is port cargo growing?

Lettiere: There has been growth at the port in the past few years, but it hasn’t been as consistent as folks would have liked. The inconsistency in growth is coming because of the increased activity in the southern ports of Norfolk [Va.] and Charleston [S.C.].

What’s happening is that the importers are using those southern ports because they are finding, whether in reality or perception, that they can move goods through there faster and at less cost. But since most of those goods have to come north, they are going to come here by truck and that creates a terrific transportation problem not only on our highways but in our communities. It’s important for us to have these goods shipped into our port and that Nation’sPort works to ensure that infrastructure improvements are made so we can best our competition in the south and move goods more efficiently and at a lower cost than they can.

NJBIZ: What needs to be done?

Lettiere: The roadway connections from the port to major facilities like the Turnpike and the interstate highway system aren’t very efficient.

We don’t ship enough by rail. Although there has been important progress made, only 10 percent of what gets shipped out of the port goes by rail. If we’re going to see easing of congestion, we have to set that goal at 20 or 25 percent. Another thing is the connection with air traffic. There’s an increase in the amount of imported goods that come into the port and are shipped out by air after manufacture.

NJBIZ: What kind of strategic investments will you suggest?

Lettiere: In the first part we will have to make the roadway infrastructure [improvements]—connections to the Turnpike, to interstate highways, and the completion of projects on the [Department of Transportation] Portway [should] be accelerated. Another one is to start working with Conrail and Class One railroads to see what rail improvements have to be made to ship incoming freight out of the facility and out of the region by rail.

NJBIZ: How will you get the money?

Lettiere: That’s always the interesting challenge. In a typical fashion from the state of New Jersey, the federal government, the Port Authority. There are economic development authorities we can start to take a look at, and even private investment. There is no pool of funds that should be left off the table for discussion and we will seek every avenue to get agreement and secure funds to build.

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