The United States’ over 300 ports serve as economic engines driving the nation’s economy.

In a 2018 report by the American Association of Port Authorities, ports contributed $5.4 trillion to the economy, or nearly 26% of the total GDP, and supported 30.8 million jobs. And that economic impact is only growing. However, many port infrastructure facilities are at least 50 to 100 years old and are not designed for 21st-century societal needs.

The 2021 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure gave the nation’s ports a B-minus grade, up from the 2017 report’s C-plus. With the passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act – or the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law – the profession will be able to address seven of ASCE’s recommendations concerning ports and inland waterways. 

In this ASCE Interchange Live, Ana Tijerina Esquino, an engineer for Mott MacDonald and advisor for the Committee on America’s Infrastructure, joins ASCE to discuss the advancement of America’s port infrastructure.

“According to the DOT, more than 60% of the grant awards from the IIJA are going to benefit ports in historically disadvantaged communities and approximately $150 million will focus on the electrification of port equipment. So this is a really good thing not only for ports specifically and port engineers, but for all of our communities,” Tijerina Esquino said.

“We also have new and fewer restrictions to fund multimodal projects. Port infrastructure is only one part of our transportation network. You’re still going to have to get that cargo out of your port facility and into a railcar or maybe onto our road systems. So it’s like ‘the rising tide lifts all boats.’ The more that we can improve our transportation network, the more we’ll be able to improve our port services as well.”

Tijerina Esquino also discusses the role that ports play in the safety, resilience, and sustainability of our communities at a regional and national level. Along with the benefits of port-to-rail cargo connection, port infrastructure is also integral for disaster preparedness. 

Read more about ports in the 2021 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure and track IIJA-funded infrastructure developments.

To view all ASCE Interchange episodes, visit ASCE’s YouTube channel.