The Port of Jacksonville will begin deepening its shipping channel in early 2017, port CEO Brian Taylor said Tuesday.
The money to start the first phase of dredging isn’t in place yet. But it’s close.
The Florida Department of Transportation’s five-year work program calls for the port to receive $35.5 million of the $40 million needed for Phase One over the next two years.
Taylor was not specific about a source for the rest, but said he is “very confident there will be funding to get it started” in early 2017, based on “conversations with others.”
The entire project will cost $684.2 million and is expected to take five or six years.
Channel deepening is necessary to support trade with Asia, the fastest growing part of JaxPort’s business.
Global container ships are getting bigger, and most now need channel depths of at least 47 feet to come into port fully loaded. JaxPort’s channel depth is 40 feet.
“If we are not able to accommodate these ships in the future, that business will pass us by and what we’ve accomplished so far will move to other ports,” Taylor said at a Tuesday lunch program of the World Affairs Council Jacksonville.
Port projects are typically funded by the federal government, but with federal dollars in short supply, states have been picking up the tab.
JaxPort is on the federal government’s to-do list, but the most recent federal budget authorized no new starts for any port project nationwide.
In Florida, state funding for the project has fared better.
Pending the governor’s signing of the state budget, FDOT is planning $188 million for JaxPort channel deepening, spread out over six years.
Allocations in 2016 and 2017 will total $35.5 million, though about a third of that money will come from a local match, FDOT said Tuesday afternoon.
Earlier in the day, Taylor said the remaining Phase One money could come from another source at the state level or by front-loading state money budgeted for JaxPort deepening to the project’s earlier years.
Once the project has begun, the port’s bid to continue will become more compelling, he said.
Speaking to the shortfall in Phase One funding, longtime port proponent state Rep. Lake Ray said FDOT could move money from another project that finishes under budget or reprioritize money budgeted for other projects.
“That’s not a large amount,” Ray said. “No doubt the funds can be found.”