FDOT says it wants more regional port cooperation, not consolidation
Richard Biter, Florida Dept. of Transportation Enlarge
Richard Biter, Florida Dept. of Transportation
Tampa Bay Business Journal
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The Florida Department of Transportation is urging more regional cooperation among the state's 15 seaports, but is not seeking consolidation, the agency's Assistant Secretary Richard Biter said in an exclusive interview with the Tampa Bay Business Journal.
"What we are trying to do is reach economies of scale," he said. "We want to help market the Tampa Bay region. We feel the whole is greater than the sum of its parts."
Biter is in charge of intermodal systems development for FDOT, which means growing import and export traffic by ship, train and truck. In October he met with officials from the ports in Tampa, Manatee and St. Petersburg to promote regional cooperation and remind local leaders of FDOT’'s obligation to steward the state’s infrastructure investment.
Port Manatee commissioners, wary of similar local outreach from the Port of Tampa and whispers of proposed legislative studies for consolidating state ports, passed a resolution on Nov. 21 stating its desire to remain autonomous.
"That's fine for them to lay out their position," Biter said, "but that doesn't preclude them from working cooperative with other ports on regional issues. ... Our goal here is collaboration. If Manatee wants to be a player, then let them act accordingly. We are not standing in anyone's way."
In a series of reports over the past two weeks, the Business Journal has revealed efforts by the Port of Tampa to sign "Memorandums of Understanding" to work more closely with St. Petersburg and Port Citrus. No such agreement is on the table between Manatee and Tampa, which are competing for container traffic and car processing business.
A consultant told the Business Journal that ports nationwide are facing "greater pressure to cooperate on a regional basis" as the public and private sectors increase scrutiny of infrastructure investment.
Biter said FDOT does not support consolidation of the state’s 15 ports, which dot the Gulf and Atlantic coastlines.
"I don't think we've reached a point where that needs to be considered," Biter said. "What we are looking at is more regional cooperation."
Biter said FDOT is having similar talks with the ports in Miami, Everglades and Palm Beach related to intermodal hubs in South Florida.
"Money is not unlimited," he said. "We have to watch how we invest in port infrastructure so we are not minimizing or diminishing the investments in other ports."
FDOT says it has spent nearly $103 million on the ports in Tampa, St. Petersburg and Manatee since fiscal year 2011.
Biter said an ongoing discussions with seaport and other transportation leaders are expected to result in a menu of potential regional options or programs, possibly to be announced sometime in the first quarter of next year. He declined to share any of the proposed ideas.
"The statewide goal is make Florida a world class transportation hub," Biter said. "We want to be a global trade leader."