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Transportation Consultant Raises Concerns On JaxPort Deepening Project

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As the debate continues over whether to spend close to $700 million to deepen the St. Johns River, one former transportation executive says proceeding with the project is anything but a sure thing in helping the area increase its market share in container shipping.

Dale Lewis, a transportation consultant and retired CSX executive, recently presented his analysis on the intense East Coast deepwater container port competition at the MIT Center for Transportation and Logistics Distinguished Speaker Series.

  • LISTEN | The full interview from "First Coast Connect"

"My efforts are focused on getting the full range of costs, opportunities, and risks associated with JaxPort’s potential on the table so that the folks who will ultimately vote on funding have the most complete, accurate numbers available," Lewis said.

Lewis says port deepening is a high-cost, high-risk, but potentially high-reward supply chain project, but one tied to complicated political issues and based on overly optimistic economic forecasts.

He also says just deepening the channel alone is no guarantee of increasing market share.

"Charleston went from shallower than Savannah to deeper than Savannah 12 years ago. They have continued to lose market share from that point. So just having deep water doesn't do it," he said. "The other thing is the premise if we don't become a large container port is not borne out by the port's own projections.

"If you read through all the presentations, non-deepwater trades don't require depth over 40 feet and are worth in the neighborhood of $100 million per year. And the port's planning documents show them growing."

The federal government recently allocated $17.5 million to deepen the river's shipping channel from 40 to 47 feet to accommodate larger cargo ships. JaxPort officials have long argued that more cargo coming through the port means more jobs for the region.  

Melissa Ross can be reached at or on Twitter @melissainjax