Jackson — Responding to a request, attorney Alan Moore began working in transportation matters after 16 years of practicing law. Today, his work at the Baker Donelson firm is comprised primarily of serving clients directly related to transportation.
Moore serves as general counsel for the Jackson Municipal Airport Authority, the Mississippi Airports Association and the Mississippi Intermodal Council. He’s on the board of directors of the Mississippi Water Resources Association, which represents river and gulf ports in Mississippi. In May 2004, he was a panelist at the 13th annual International Air Cargo Conference in Biloxi, speaking on “Air Cargo and Intermodal Initiatives.” In June 2004, he spoke at the Heartland Intermodal Partnership meeting in Chicago on “Organization of State and Local Intermodal Councils.”
The Mississippi Business Journal chatted with Moore, a Jackson native who graduated from Murrah High School in 1964, Vanderbilt University in 1968 and the University of Virginia School of Law in 1973, and served with the U. S. Army in Vietnam from 1969 to 1970, to ask him how he became involved in transportation law, his thoughts on what Mississippi needs to provide world-class transportation and his take on transportation trends.
Mississippi Business Journal: When did you first become interested in transportation-related law?
Alan Moore: In 1989, Earl Wilson, chairman of the Jackson Municipal Airport Authority at that time, asked me if I would be interested in becoming the Airport Authority’s lawyer. Earl was a highly respected, visionary business leader. He said that he and others on the Airport Authority’s board of commissioners wanted to update the airside facilities, renovate the terminal building, increase commercial air traffic and make what is now Jackson-Evers International Airport a more important economic engine for Central Mississippi and the rest of the state. That sounded great to me, so I submitted a proposal, was selected and have had the privilege of representing the Airport Authority since then.
Through my work for the Airport Authority, I met others in the airport and aviation business. When the state airport organization wanted to formally organize a statewide association, they asked me to handle that, and since then, I have served the Mississippi Airports Association as its general counsel and legislative lobbyist. That led to some work on behalf of other transportation interests, including several port commissions, and then the organization of the Mississippi Intermodal Council, and one day I realized that most of my law practice had become related to transportation.
MBJ: What makes airports such strong economic engines?
AM: First of all, airports employ lots of folks at good wages, directly and indirectly through the businesses that operate at and around airports. Beyond that, airports, especially commercial airports, make possible much of the economic activity that occurs in their service area. We live in a global economy with a need for immediate access to what we need, whether information or transportation. Today, access to the national and worldwide airport network is essential for the business and casual traveler, and to businesses trying to meet “on demand” inventory requirements for their products. Think about it. Today, we have huge aircraft moving cargo, as well as people, back and forth between China and the U.S., and we are going to see more and more international air cargo traffic at our airports here in Mississippi.
In 2001, a study found that Jackson-Evers International Airport contributed over $42 million in direct annual benefits to the state’s economy, with indirect annual benefits exceeding $90 million. I am sure those numbers are higher today because of the substantial construction projects underway at the airport.
MBJ: Tell us more about the Mississippi Intermodal Council’s mission and goals.
AM: The Mississippi Intermodal Council was formed in September 2003 in response to a growing awareness among local and state public officials and private businesses involved in transportation of the need for coordinated planning and funding among the different transportation modes, on the local, state and federal levels. For too long, there was little coordination in planning and funding among highways, ports, airports, railroads and public transit. For example, until 1992, the Mississippi Transportation Commission was known as the Mississippi Highway Commission and its functions were limited to building roads.
In 1992, Mississippi took a giant step forward by converting the Mississippi Highway Commission into the Mississippi Transportation Commission. The mission statement of the Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT) now specifically refers to building a world-class intermodal transportation system in Mississippi. The Intermodal Council includes representatives from the trucking and highway construction industries, ports — both river and gulf, airports, railroads — both public and private, and public transit.
The Intermodal Council provides a forum for the different transportation modes to share information, talk about common goals and problems, and work together on matters of mutual interest, especially planning and funding. It may sound strange, but airports and ports care about the design, construction and maintenance of highways and railroads because the people and goods that move through airports and ports arrive and leave by car, truck or rail. It is a single, integrated multi-modal transportation system, and should be designed, constructed, funded and regulated with that in mind.
MBJ: What’s unique about Mississippi’s transportation system?
AM: Mississippi is blessed with some natural transportation advantages that give us some special opportunities. For example, Mississippi is particularly blessed because we have both gulf and river ports. We have four gulf ports, and 12 inland river ports with access to two of the primary inland waterway systems in North America — the Mississippi River and the Tennessee Tombigbee Waterway — and both reach all the way to the Gulf of Mexico, and then to the world. Now, that is what it means to be part of a worldwide intermodal transportation system. Think about how few states have those advantages.
MBJ: Are we taking advantage of those opportunities?
AM: Certainly, we are trying harder, both on the local and state level. But it takes lots of money — lots and lots of money! — to build highways, operate and maintain ports, build rail lines and maintain and operate airports. There is never enough money, especially now after Katrina, so we have to make sure that there is sufficient economic return on the investments made in transportation, whether for roads, airports, ports or rail. I think we are doing a good job in that area — making sure that the money we spend is spent wisely.
MBJ: Tell us about the Mississippi Airports Association’s mission and goals.
AM: The Mississippi Airports Association is an association of the commercial and general aviation airports throughout the state. It provides a forum for airport managers and their staffs, the FAA and others interested in aviation, to discuss and work together on matters of mutual interest, such as safety, security, air traffic controls, federal funding, intermodal connectors (roads) to airports, environmental regulations, development of cargo traffic and now lessons learned from Katrina. The state association has an annual meeting each year that is well attended and serves as a focal point for the year’s activities.
MBJ: What does a lawyer who represents airports actually do?
AM: The simple answer is that we do whatever we are asked to do. For a large commercial airport, such as Jackson-Evers International Airport, that means working on airline permits, terminal leases, concession agreements for food, news and gift shops and car rentals, contracts with engineers and consultants, procurements and construction projects, commercial ground leases and operating agreements, minimum standards for airport operators, rules for ground transportation, security regulations, federal and state grants, legislation, environmental regulations, employment matters, bond issues and on and on. The good news is that most of the work is constructive. We are working with folks trying to do something positive for the airport and the community, and when we do that, we know we are contributing to the state’s economic development.
Of course, I don’t do all that myself. I am fortunate to have excellent partners, like Jeff Wagner, who also devote substantial time to our airport and transportation clients.
MBJ: What makes working with transportation clients particularly satisfying?
AM: Airports and other transportation clients provide an essential public need. As lawyers, our job is to help them provide that public service. That means we doing something positive, something that results in a net gain for the community and state economically.
MBJ: As a lawyer, what trends do you see in the transportation industry?
AM: First, the cost of transportation infrastructure projects, whether airports or highways or ports or rail lines, keeps going up while available revenue is level or declining. As a result, projects have to be justified on a cost/benefit analysis, as an investment. That is not bad. It is good. And today, that justification needs to have an intermodal element: a connection between a port and a highway, or between a trucking center and a rail line, or between an airport’s cargo distribution center and nearby rail lines and interstate highways.
Second, our highways do not have enough capacity for the number of trucks projected to use them in the next few years. We have to find ways to shift some of that cargo to water, air or rail, and soon.
Third, international air cargo trade will continue to grow, and we will see that in Mississippi.
Fourth, and this may be the biggest challenge, is the increasing cost of meeting constantly changing security requirements mandated but not funded by the federal government. Local and state governments have to find the money to meet these federal security requirements, and that is especially difficult for airports and ports. That is, of course, a result of 9/11, and it is a serious financial and management challenge to those in the transportation industry.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at Lynne.Jeter@gmail.com.