Government and business leaders broke ground Thursday on a $73 million project that will bring railway lines inside Broward County's seaport, helping to speed movement of freight, reduce the number of trucks on roadways and create thousands of jobs.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott called the Port Everglades development "critical to Florida's global success."
Scott said the project will add more than 700 jobs during construction and more than 2,000 direct and indirect jobs statewide when it starts operations next year.
"This is a great day for Florida families," Scott told reporters after shoveling dirt to symbolically break ground on the so-called "Intermodal Container Transfer Facility."
Sixteen years in the making, the project involves a public-private partnership between the county's seaport, the state and a major business. Port Everglades provided 42.5 acres of land worth about $20 million. The state gave $18 million in grants. And private developer and operator Florida East Coast Railway is investing $35 million, including repayment of a $30 million state loan, officials said.
Bringing railway to the docks will allow cargo in shipping containers to be loaded directly onto trains. That means the freight won't need to be placed first on trucks to reach its final destination or be transferred to trains in Fort Lauderdale, Hialeah or elsewhere. That switch saves time for shippers and ends up cheaper, since trains uses less fuel and cost less for transport than trucks, executives said.
State officials estimate the port's new rail hub will eliminate about 180,000 truck trips a year from Florida roads and highways, a prospect that thrills Broward County Mayor Kristin Jacobs.
"Trying to find ways to get more trucks and traffic off I-95 has been a personal mission of mine," Jacobs told an audience of about 150 people before joining the governor and others in the groundbreaking.
To work, the project requires some roadway changes. The Florida Department of Transportation is investing $42 million to extend Interstate-595 through an overpass into the port. That will allow the railroad to operate underneath at ground level, said Port Everglades Director Steve Cernak.
The projects come as Port Everglades prepares to handle increased freight and larger ships from expansion of the Panama Canal set for completion next year. The seaport wants to be able to quickly unload goods from the larger ships onto trains and whisk them to points across Florida and beyond, saving time and money for shippers and beating out ports north of Florida for cargo business.
As part of that effort, Port Everglades also is expanding its turnaround area for ships and adding five new piers. Gov Scott committed Thursday to provide $13 million for the so-called "Southport Turning Notch Extension Project," according to a statement from his office.
Others attending Thursday's long-awaited groundbreaking included State Sen. Maria Sachs, commissioners from Broward, Fort Lauderdale, Hollywood and Dania Beach, and former Port Everglades Director Phil Allen, who had championed the projects before his retirement last year.
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