Ocean cargo/global logistics: Short-sea shipping not a done deal in U.S. yet

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Now that the U.S. Department of Transportation Maritime Administration (MARAD) has established a final rule on its “Marine Highway” strategy, shippers are keen to understand how the tactical implementation will begin. More to the point, however, is the question of how it will enhance trade and improve the movement of domestic goods.

John Hummer, director of MARAD’s Northern California Gateway Office, was charged with facing those queries and others at last week’s “Ports & Terminals” luncheon staged by the Pacific Transportation Association. Held at Scott’s, near the Port of Oakland, the event attracted its share of skeptics who took issue with some of Hummer’s rosier projections.

“How does MARAD quantify the return on investment?” asked one shipper, who said that not enough “hard numbers” had been produced before the plan was pushed through.

Hummer admitted that MARAD’s five-year plan to ease congestion by using barges and tugs as alternatives to trucks was going to deliver a “net value” yet to be measured.

“But it’s our best shot at the moment,” he added. “And worth a try. 

According to the “National Strategy to Reduce Congestion on America’s Transportation Network,” congestion is costing the U.S. an estimated $200 billion a year.”  And this figure is rising.  Nearly 98 percent of all domestic freight including through ports moves on the United States’ nation’s highways and railroads.

The Federal Highway Administration study entitled, “Estimated Cost of Freight Involved in Highway Bottlenecks – Final Report,” indicates that, on average, there are currently 10,500 trucks per day per mile on the Interstate Highway System. But by 2035, that volume is expected to double to 22,700 trucks, with the most heavily used portions of the system seeing upwards of 50,000 trucks per day.

“By linking the Northern California ports of Sacramento, Stockton, and Oakland, a great deal of that surface mode pressure can be relieved,” said Hummer. “Short-sea shipping is hardly a new concept, and now that the Obama Administration has given us the funding, it;’s worth a try.”

Other concerns raised about the plan were brought up by members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU). One dockside worker was assured by Hummer that all container hand-offs would remain with the ILWU – which controls all three ports. The implications of a wildcat strike or sudden work slowdown were not addressed, however.


About the Author

Patrick Burnson
Patrick Burnson is executive editor for Logistics Management and Supply Chain Management Review magazines and web sites. Patrick is a widely-published writer and editor who has spent most of his career covering international trade, global logistics, and supply chain management. He lives and works in San Francisco, providing readers with a Pacific Rim perspective on industry trends and forecasts. You can reach him directly at [email protected]

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