Obama pledges to accelerate JaxPort projects

River dredging study to be completed year ahead of schedule

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - President Barack Obama on Thursday named two Jacksonville Port Authority projects to a list of seven priority infrastructure projects, pledging to accelerate the federal review process.

The president has committed that the Jacksonville Harbor Navigation Deepening Study will be completed by April, about one year ahead of schedule.

In addition, the president has pledged to expedite the federal review process for JaxPort's Intermodal Container Transfer Facility Project allowing review completion by July 2013. The $30 million ICTF, funded through both federal and state Department of Transportation grants, will increase the capacity of the port to move containers by on-dock rail, cutting truck traffic and increasing efficiency.

Once completed, the deepening and ICTF projects will work together to significantly enhance JaxPort's competitiveness and ability to generate positive economic impact regionally and nationally, JaxPort officials said.

The initial list of projects, which is part of the administration's "We Can't Wait" initiative, is targeted to expedite the most critical infrastructure projects in the country. As part of a Presidential Executive Order issued in March of this year, the Office of Management and Budget is charged with overseeing a government-wide effort to make the permitting and review process for infrastructure projects more efficient and effective, saving time while driving better outcomes for local communities.

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and U.S. Reps. Corrine Brown, Ander Crenshaw and Cliff Stearns contacted federal partners on JaxPort's behalf earlier this year requesting that these projects be included on the list of priority infrastructure needs.

"We are moving from talk to action, and that's what it's going to take to keep this nation competitive globally," said JaxPort CEO Paul Anderson. "Expediting careful review of the process toward our deepening project and ICTF construction and the other projects on the president's list will create benefits for generations to come. By elevating the discussion of the critical needs of U.S. ports to the highest levels of government, our president and our lawmakers are sending a clear message to the world: We are not going to fall behind; we are improving our process every day and we will create the ports of the future."

A White House statement Thursday acknowledges that one of the critical steps in modernizing and expanding JaxPort is to finalize the federal feasibility study examining the costs and benefits of deepening the harbor. Nationally, feasibility studies take an average of 10 years, and the expedited process announced Thursday will shorten that timeline.

Officials said the commitment to complete all federal permits for the Jacksonville ICTF will allow the two projects to be completed in a timely manner and begin working together to create jobs and opportunity.

The Jacksonville District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is currently working on the feasibility study to examine the benefits and costs of deepening the Jacksonville federal navigation channel at the port from its existing authorized project depth of 40 feet up to maximum project depth of 50 feet to accommodate larger cargo vessels.

"This announcement endorses the growth of Jacksonville's port, and it epitomizes why growing our exports is a top priority for me as mayor and as chairman of the Task Force on Metro Exports and Ports for the U.S. Conference of Mayors," Mayor Alvin Brown said in a statement. "JaxPort is a huge part of who we are and what we do, as more than 65,000 northeast Floridians working port-generated jobs can attest. Its growth is integrally tied to our future."

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