Last night, in his 2013 State of the Union address, President Obama spoke about his vision for thriving American economy. One of the keys to the kind of economy the President talked about is a strong maritime transportation and port system.
If we want American businesses to compete effectively, getting the goods from point A to point B quickly, safely, and affordably is essential. And our waterways offer us an important freight alternative that checks all three of those boxes.
The President knows this. We at DOT know it. And the maritime professionals attending this week's Great Lakes Waterways Conference in Cleveland know it.
I went to the Great Lakes conference to talk about the opportunities that abound for the region's waterways. Opportunities to create jobs, opportunities to improve safety and efficiency, and opportunities to invest in a revitalized fleet of Laker vessels, international vessels, and revitalized ports throughout the region.
We know from a just-completed Maritime Administration (MARAD) study that the regional industries served by the Great Lakes, their ports, and the St. Lawrence Seaway are rebounding from the recent recession.
Lake cargo volumes are recovering from their 2009 lows. The Lakes and the Seaway are supporting more than 226,000 jobs. And with the shift in our nation's energy needs, the Great Lakes region is poised to play an even greater role in our economic future as the supply chain for oil, gas, and renewable resources continues to expand.
And it confirms what we’ve long known: that the Great Lakes fleet provides efficient, safe, and environmentally sound transportation services that remain competitive with other modes of freight transportation.
Shifting goods from less fuel-efficient transportation systems to more fuel efficient systems means keeping shipments on waterways like the Great Lakes and the Seaway as long as possible. That's a win for the economy, letting consumers and producers save money. It's also a win for the environment by helping to reduce carbon emissions.
The study's good news is a testament to the hard work of everyone in the Great Lakes water transportation industry. But more than just a testament to the hard work of the past and the hard work going on right now, the study' indicates clearly that the future of the Great Lakes - Seaway System is very bright.
And here at DOT, we are committed to supporting shipping on the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence Seaway. We're committed to help maintain and expand the region's ports. And we're committed to improving the freight network that ties our water and land-based transportation systems together.
This commitment is part of an Administration-wide commitment to reignite the engine of our economy. Our ports, vessels, and waterways are vital components of that engine, and we will continue to invest in their success.