Commentary | Viewpoint

Why Ports Need a Master Plan

Tags: Economic Development, Transportation Infrastructure, Ports, Finance

Natacha J. Yacinthe, Ph.D., AICP, is the Principal Seaport Planner at Port Everglades, 954-468-0213

Ports constitute an important economic hub and critical economic engines, bringing varying degrees of benefit to the international, regional, and local economies in which they operate. In a sense, ports are much like living organisms. In biology, organisms are defined as contiguous living systems, which, in at least some form, are capable of response to stimuli, reproduction, growth and development, and maintenance as a stable whole. 

Like organisms, ports require attention, security, care, and protection in order to facilitate their development, growth, maintenance, and sustainability. Globally, ports face numerous challenges, such as transformation, climate change, globalization, competitiveness, superstructure/infrastructure development, management, and changes in political ideologies. Port leaders require the capability to balance physical, economic, and social environments in order for their ports to thrive.

While circumstances vary depending upon a port’s location, decisions and approaches to sustainability and growth are achievable through the development, adoption, and implementation of a marine/port Master Plan. Master Plans can assist port leaders in developing clear sets of recommendations and implementation approaches to projects identified and approved by stakeholders and governmental officials during the planning process.

Marine planning is no small feat, and ports throughout the world have transferred trillions of dollars into the growth and development of their facilities. Implementation of a port’s capital infrastructure/superstructure cannot effectively occur on an ad hoc basis and without planning where to best invest those monies.

The decision by port CEOs on how to best approach financing projects—rather through Public-Private Partnerships (P3), Public-Public Partnerships (PP3), or entirely financed by the port—do not result from a single non-directional meeting. Deciding on the types of projects requires extensive reviews of existing conditions, strategically reviewing the national and international markets, conducting plan development, market forecasting/market projections, and obtaining stakeholder inputs. Also, many ports are land constrained and have limited resources, so to facilitate growth and channel investments, ports need a conduit and a guide. Master Plans can be utilized in this way, and may also be a basis for fiscal planning.

Be Prepared

Master Planning consists of a series of activities that help shapes a port’s development and growth. Port planning is essential and brings value to facilities. However, Master Plans are no good if they just become another report filed away on a shelf. A Master Plan must remain a living document that is understood, adhered to, and is flexible enough to allow adaptability in unforeseen circumstances.

If a joint project is warranted between neighboring ports, having a completed Master Plan can assist with expediting potential feasibility and eventual project success, because developing Master Plans prepares the port authority for practicable projects. As port leaders better prepare, the facility saves time and resources. Those resources can then be utilized towards the successful implementation of the selected project.

Updating Master Plans better enables ports to weather any economic downturn. Also, a port may strategize to prepare proposals for grants, P3, and other funding and partnership opportunities should they arise. Ports with a Master Plan in place may potentially be more marketable to shipping lines and logistics operators, as such plans suggest to lines that a port has conducted a thorough economic, capital, and infrastructure diagnostic of the subject facility.






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