By Paul Aucoin & D. Paul Robichaux
May 6, 2021 at 5:00 am ET
As a pandemic response, a federal investment in infrastructure creates long-lasting economic opportunity and rebuilds a nation that has for too long ignored its critical infrastructure needs. Most notably, if we don’t invest in critical infrastructure now – when a national jobs program is so desperately needed, and our critical infrastructure is literally crumbling – when will we?
The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that the country had an unfunded infrastructure gap of more than $2.5 trillion. Because of the pandemic, public transportation has been crippled, and states and towns are struggling financially, which has curtailed spending on fixing roads, bridges, dams, power lines and everything else that falls under the category of critical infrastructure.
Infrastructure spending is also the kind of investment that immediately translates into jobs. In 2015, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that every dollar spent on infrastructure brought an economic benefit of up to $2.20. The U.S. Council of Economic Advisers has calculated that $1 billion of transportation-infrastructure investment supports 13,000 jobs for a year.
The president is smartly framing his infrastructure plan as a jobs program. As part of an effort to rebuild America and put people to work, President Joe Biden’s infrastructure plan includes $17 billion for the maintenance of America’s waterways. A significant investment in protecting our seaways and ports means supporting the women and men who work at those facilities. But healthy ports don’t just benefit their local communities. Rather, vibrant ports support economies and jobs thousands of miles away, all across the nation.
For instance: The Mississippi River and tributaries connect 31 states to world markets. Our facility, the Port of South Louisiana is the most active Foreign Trade Zone in the nation and just one of five deep draft ports that make up the Lower Mississippi River Deep-Draft Ports Complex. The Port of South Louisiana is also the largest grain export port in America, and grain elevators within the port handle over 50 percent of all U.S. grain exports annually. In other words, grains produced throughout the Midwest export their harvests to the world via south Louisiana. Our waterways are the lifeblood of the agricultural economies for more than half of our states.
This is why investment in infrastructure is so critical — because improving one region can help another. It’s why in 2019, the United Soybean Board donated $2 million to help fund the deepening of the Mississippi River Ship Channel; deepening the shipping channel where the Mississippi River empties into the Gulf of Mexico and connects American agriculture to world markets. Soybean farmers across the nation understood that properly maintained infrastructure – even thousands of miles away – would be economically beneficial to them.
Biden’s plan must ensure there is consistent, long-term funding to safeguard that this critical shipping channel is properly dredged to maintain a depth of 50 feet at all times. When the pass is not 50 feet deep, it creates a low draft where nearly all ships either enter or exit the Gulf of Mexico. A vessel’s draft is the distance between the bottom of the ship and the waterline. Hence, when there are low drafts, ships have to be lighter to avoid getting stuck on the bottom. On the Mississippi River, every foot of draft a ship loses equates to leaving behind 1 million dollars of cargo.
Perhaps most importantly, jobs tied to international commerce and trade pay well. According to the most recent data available, the United States Trade Representative found that: “Nationally, jobs supported by goods exports pay up to an estimated 18 percent above the national average.”
Our leaders in Washington need to come together to help the nation recuperate from the pandemic. We cannot stress enough the importance of investing in infrastructure as part of that recovery. To fix America’s critical infrastructure our government has to act boldly now.
At the Port of South Louisiana, Paul Aucoin is the executive director and D. Paul Robichaux is the president and chairman of the Board of Commissioners.
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