Florida’s freight infrastructure investment named an innovation to watch

By Chris Spahr

Florida’s statewide approach to freight infrastructure investments has been highlighted in the Brookings-Rockefeller Project on State and Metropolitan Innovation’s Top 10 State and Metropolitan Innovations to Watch.

Latin America is the fastest growing regional trade partner for the United States. Between 1998 and 2009, total U.S. merchandise trade (exports plus imports) with Latin America grew by 82 percent compared with 72 percent for Asia, 51 percent for the European Union, 21 percent for Africa, and 64 percent worldwide. The State of Florida has recognized the significance of this growth in trade with Latin America and has decided to invest heavily in its ports and increase freight capacity.

Following up on a huge investment in the Port of Miami, which is pursuing $1 billion in improvements to increase freight capacity with a new tunnel and intermodal exchange upgrades, Governor Rick Scott established the Office of Freight Logistics and Passenger Operations (FLP). This office is meant to better connect, develop, and implement a freight planning process that will maximize the use of existing facilities and integrate and coordinate various modes of transportation. This strategy is unique in that it aligns infrastructure systems across the state through Florida’s Strategic Intermodal System and the state’s first ever Freight Mobility and Trade Plan, thus allowing the FLP to consider the entire state’s freight interests rather than just those of individual ports and intermodal centers.

Judith Rodin, President of the Rockefeller Foundation, and Bruce Katz, Vice President at the Brookings Institution, in their criticism of the Federal Government’s gridlock, have praised this effort as a small but smart, pragmatic and bipartisan solution to a national economic challenge. However, Mike Breen, Senior Director of the international department of the Jacksonville and Northeast Florida regional economic development initiative (JAXUSA) spoke cautiously when the proposal was first presented to him at a stakeholder meeting in August 2012. “You have to pay to play. We can talk about investment, but we need to actually fund these projects,” said Breen.

Chris Spahr is a Graduate Assistant with SSTI.