“That is the preferred site because it is city-owned and it is located right next to the Ocala/Marion County Commerce Park, rail and Interstate 75,” Astrida Trupovnieks, the city of Ocala’s senior redevelopment manager, said.
Parsons Brinckerhoff was hired as a consultant by the city of Ocala to undertake an 18-month feasibility study to determine the merits of developing an inland port in Ocala to support not only the increased shipping that is expected to come to Florida when the Panama Canal expansion is completed, but also to accommodate the projected growth in the state’s population.
The $284,500 cost of the study is being shared, with the city paying $149,500 and the Florida Department of Transportation picking up $135,000.
“We are trying to determine if the city of Ocala has a place in the global supply chain in accordance with the governor’s and legislature’s issues,” Trupovnieks said. “A lot of resources are being directed toward ports and FDOT to improve the ports and the transportation corridors, highways, state routes, to widen these lanes, to reduce congestion and provide truck transportation from ports to rail.”
Miami is undergoing major road construction to provide a more direct route from the Port of Miami to the Florida East Coast Railroad. Miami’s port is being dredged to make it deeper to accommodate the large container ships — many likely from Asia — that will be able to pass through the Panama Canal once the work there is completed.
“The transportation routes are being examined to improve efficiency for the movement of freight,” Trupovnieks said about Florida.
Parsons Brinckerhoff met earlier this week with members of Ocala’s inland port committee — consisting of city and FDOT officials, the Ocala/Marion County Transportation Planning Organization director and members of the public — to outline the scope of work. Inland ports are also called Intermodal Logistics Centers (ILCs).
“The consultant will be interviewing manufacturers, shippers, ports, airports in the region to determine if there would be an interest in handling that freight in Ocala,” Trupovnieks said. “That will be paired with a study of all the commodity flows. Can they be handled more efficiently on Ocala’s route than another jurisdiction?”
She said the commodity flow data for Central Florida and Ocala is updated continuously and is available from FDOT, and the consultant will access that information at no charge.
“They also will be obtaining data from railroads about what commodities are being moved and where they’re being moved to,” Trupovnieks said.
Once the commodity flows are identified, the consultant will determine the most feasible commodities to flow through Ocala and what handling is required.
Would Ocala be most suitable for distribution or for finishing products? Would it be best suited for truck transfer facilities or truck/rail facilities or air/truck facilities, or as a major distribution center for a large shipper? Would a foreign trade zone be required?
“Once that’s identified, then they will take a look at sites to see which site is most suitable and most efficient for that type of modality,” Trupovnieks said.
Pre-engineering and pre-environmental assessments will be done on the sites.
A financial analysis also would be completed to determine how much it would cost to build the ILC.
Councilwoman Mary Rich sits on Ocala’s inland port committee.
“I think it’s going the right way,” Rich said. “I don’t want them to get rid of Pine Oaks but, what I understand, is they can use a part of it, not the entire golf course. I definitely would be satisfied with that.”
Pine Oaks is in the middle of a residential area, so she has some concerns about that.
“I am concerned about how busy it would be with people living there,” Rich said. “It might not even be feasible to have one in Ocala. We don’t know yet until they complete the study.”
She pointed out that there is plenty of land at the airport that could be used.
Rich does like the idea of having an inland port.
“I think it would be good for the jobs more than anything else,” she said.
Throughout the study process, there will be “go, no-go” points to decide whether to continue further with the study or to stop.
For instance, after the market study is completed, if the data shows that there are no commodities that could be efficiently handled in Ocala, the study would stop.
In 2010 the governor and legislature commissioned a freight and logistic study based on the prospect of the Panama Canal expansion completion.
“That’s what started the freight and logistics initiative here in Florida,” Trupovnieks said.
But there are other considerations.
There currently is $132 billion in two-way trade within Florida and $66 billion in Florida-origin exports. Florida is the leading U.S. state in trade with Latin America and the Caribbean.
“We have 15 seaports and 90 million visitors annually,” Trupovnieks said.
In addition, Florida has 19 commercial airports and 19 million residents. By 2025, Florida’s population is expected to grow to 23 million.
“All that has been determined by trade and freight experts around the country — that Florida is a strategic location to accommodate trade and will require more goods to accommodate the increase in population,” Trupovnieks said. “The state also has determined that because of the increase in population and because of the desire to diversify the economy, freight and logistics would be a leading industry.”
She said that trade played a major role in leading Florida out of the recession.
“Because of all our assets — airports, water routes, the rail, the state highways — in the future, global trade we will play an even stronger role,” Trupovnieks said.