Leaders and experts from all transportation modes gathered at Miami’s iconic Biltmore Hotel last week to discuss the future of transportation in Florida and the opportunities it holds for job creation and economic growth.
The summit, convened by Floridians for Better Transportation, drew nearly 300 public and private sector transportation experts, representing government, seaports, trucking, logistics, airlines, railroads and space.
“The summit highlighted the broadly shared consensus that transportation investment is the key to Florida’s global competitiveness,” FBT President Matthew Ubben said. “With the expansion of the Panama Canal, Florida is in a unique position to serve as a central gateway for trade, with all the economic benefits that provides.”
Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Ananth Prasad said public and private transportation investment across all modes holds a key to realizing Governor Rick Scott’s goals for job creation.
“Transportation investment, from port deepening to high occupancy vehicle lane construction to airport expansion, is putting Floridians to work and driving economic development,” Prasad said. “Communities across Florida are making game-changing transportation investments that further establish Florida as a global force.”
The summit included presentations on innovative transportation projects, including:
· The Miami Access Tunnel, which will improve traffic flow in downtown Miami by reducing the number of cargo trucks and cruise vehicles on congested downtown streets when it opens next year, as well as provide direct access between the seaport and highways I-395 and I-95 thereby, aiding the efficient movement of freight from the Port of Miami to points north;
· The commercialization of space transportation by SpaceFlorida, the State of Florida’s aerospace economic development agency, and SpaceX, a company that designs, manufactures, and launches the world’s most advanced rockets and spacecraft; and,
· All Aboard Florida, which will provide passenger rail service between Central and South Florida when it opens by the end of 2015, with tourism and business travel benefits for both regions and points in between.
UPS Florida President Dave Ruiz shared how innovations in technology and routing systems have increased speed, efficiency, safety and profitability for the global logistics company, which has more than 500 facilities and employs over 15,000 people in Florida.
PortMiami’s Assistant Director for Business Initiatives Kevin Lynskey said Miami will be positioned to take full advantage of the expansion of the Panama Canal in June 2015, with the completion of the Miami Access Tunnel and the dredging and deepening in and around Government Cut by up to 50 feet, which will allow PortMiami to accommodate larger (post-Panamax) cargo ships.
The summit also featured a presentation by Tom Kenna, President of the Panama Canal Railway, about the unique role the rail system plays in moving cargo and passengers across the isthmus, as an alternative to transiting through the canal.
In addition to highlighting opportunities, participants also outlined challenges facing the transportation sector, including shrinking gas tax revenue due to more fuel-efficient vehicles.
Randy Strutz, President of Quality Carriers, one of Florida’s largest trucking companies, discussed challenges posed by federal regulations and increased demand for qualified drivers.
Gene Branagan, a partner in Clary Consulting, led a symposium to explore future transportation funding options that included discussions about expanded use of managed and high occupancy lanes, using GPS technology to charge drivers for vehicle miles traveled, additional public-private partnerships and an increase in the gas tax. Ubben said the symposium is the first of a series of conversations about transportation funding that FBT will host around the state.