Speech

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Great Lakes Waterways Conference

Secretary Ray LaHood

“Remarks as Prepared for Delivery”

Great Lakes Waterways Conference

Cleveland, Ohio

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Thanks for the introduction, Alan [Bernstein, Great Lakes Waterways Conference Organizer].  It’s great to be here.

Tonight, President Obama is going to be speaking about his vision for a strong and vibrant American economy during his State of the Union address. 

And today, I’m here to talk with you about one of the most important pieces of a healthy economy: a strong maritime transportation and port system.

Getting goods from point A to point B quickly, safely, and affordably is essential for nearly every aspect of business in America.

And it’s essential to achieving President Obama’s goal of doubling exports by 2015.

At the Department of Transportation, we’re committed to meeting that goal – by investing in a transportation system that creates jobs, improves economic competitiveness, and builds prosperity over the long term.

That commitment extends to our maritime industry.

For the first time ever, this Administration is putting maritime on equal footing with the other transportation modes and allowing them to compete for much needed federal funding.

Nationally, port projects competed successfully for grant funds with highway, railroad, and transit projects during multiple rounds of our popular TIGER program. 

The Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing loan program is available for eligible borrowers to help finance the related costs of connecting rail lines with ports.

And the Maritime Administration has awarded grants to small shipyards across the country since 2008, including nearly $9.5 million in grants to 7 small shipyards across the Great Lakes region.

There’s no doubt that the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence Seaway are absolutely vital arteries for commerce, supporting more than 226,000 jobs and billions of dollars in economic activity on both sides of the border.

And with America’s growing energy needs, the Great Lakes region is poised to play an even greater role in our economic future as the logistics supply chain for oil, gas, and renewable resources expands.

It is more important than ever that we make sure its waters are clean, safe, open for navigation, and bustling with trade.

Now, there’s no question that the recession hit us hard.  And these challenging conditions resulted in a volume drop for Great Lakes waterborne cargo.

But there’s good news. 

Today, we’re releasing a new study showing that the recovery happening in communities all across the country is also happening right here in the Great Lakes, with cargos rebounding from the lows reached in 2009.

This MARAD-commissioned study takes one of the most comprehensive looks at the future of the Great Lakes fleet ever performed. 

It lays out the many challenges we’ll need to overcome, like dredging here in the Great Lakes. 

But it also explores some generational opportunities – like the potential conversion of the fleet to run on liquefied natural gas. 

And it confirms what we’ve long known: that the Great Lakes fleet provides efficient, safe, and environmentally sound transportation services that remain competitive with other modes of freight transportation.

That’s a testament to the hard work of everyone in the Great Lakes water transportation industry.

Even now, during the off-season, work continues at ports all around the Great Lakes.

There’s maintenance and repair work being done on ships in Sturgeon Bay and in Superior, Erie, and Toledo;

dredging at the Port of Green Bay;

repair operations on small tugs and barges in Cleveland, Buffalo, and Michigan ports;

and vessel equipment overhauls on five lakers in Milwaukee.

Right now, the Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation is in the middle of its multi-year Asset Renewal Program to rehabilitate and modernize Seaway infrastructure.

In addition to creating jobs, these improvements are already boosting the safety and efficiency of the Seaway system.

These investments speak volumes about the long-term commitment to shipping in the Great Lakes Seaway System.

It’s a commitment that extends to all of our ports, as well as the comprehensive freight network that ties our water and land-based transportation systems together.

This summer, we created a Freight Policy Council to help us develop a National Freight Strategic Plan.

The council includes representatives from across DOT, and it’s approaching freight movement from a high-level and multimodal outlook.

The council is meeting regularly, and its members are listening to stakeholders nationwide to get ideas for the National Freight Strategic Plan.

A key component of that plan will involve how our ports can most efficiently work with our rail lines and highways.

A study released just last week shows that Great Lakes ships are more fuel-efficient and generally emit fewer greenhouse gases than land-based alternatives.

We have to shift goods from less fuel-efficient systems to more fuel efficient systems – keeping shipments on water as long as possible, then rail, and finally truck for the final stretch.

It’s a win-win: letting consumers and producers save money while also reducing carbon emissions.

There’s no question that the future of the Great Lakes Seaway System is bright.

Now, more than ever, trade is essential to our economic prosperity – and strong trade requires us to invest in both our ports and our shipping industry.

We at DOT will continue to make sure you have the resources necessary to keep maritime trade flowing through the Great Lakes region.

By working together, we can keep our ports at the heart of an American economy built to last.

With that, I’m happy to take your questions. 

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Updated: Tuesday, February 12, 2013