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Increased Decay Strains Budget-strapped New Orleans Port

Even before Hurricane Katrina, the structural flaws of the port of New Orleans, combined with increased shipping volume, strained the infrastructure resource. Ray Suarez examines the port's struggle to fund improvements and keep up with its competition.

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  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Next, part two of our weeklong series on infrastructure, "Blueprint America."

    As the country struggles with the financial crisis, it also faces some critical choices, what to do about old infrastructure.

    Last night, we focused on crumbling roads and bridges. For tonight's edition, I traveled to New Orleans for a look at one of America's aging ports and how to modernize it.

    This series was produced in collaboration with WNET in New York.

    This place, locals like to say, has been at the epicenter of American history ever since a Frenchman first stepped on a Louisiana riverbank back in the year 1718.

    Today, the port of New Orleans sits at the mouth of the largest river system in North America. It's the country's only deepwater port, lying at the junction of six of the nation's largest great railroad lines.

    It traffics up to 14 million tons of cargo a year — steel, rubber, coffee, manufactured goods — and it has a direct impact on the entire nation's economic well-being.

    GARY LAGRANGE, President and CEO, Port of New Orleans: We have the best God-given natural resource of all the ports in the United States and maybe the Western hemisphere, the mighty Mississippi River.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Gary LaGrange is the port's president and chief executive officer.

  • GARY LAGRANGE:

    Thomas Jefferson had a pretty good notion 200 years ago when he cut the Louisiana Purchase deal with Napoleon Bonaparte.

    You can hit 33 states and three Canadian provinces without ever toughing dry land. We serve 62 percent of the consumer spending public of America from right here.

    That makes us the gateway to America: Houston, L.A.-Long Beach, New York-New Jersey, Miami, Savannah, Charleston, Jacksonville, none of the other ports can boast of that.