DOT announces various America’s Marine Highway efforts make cut for federal funding

Following an April announcement signaling the launch of “America’s Marine Highway” program, an effort to shift freight to waterways from congested U.S. highways, the United States Department of Transportation announced the marine highway corridors and an initial eight projects and six initiatives along the corridors that will be available for federal assistance through this effort.

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Following an April announcement signaling the launch of “America’s Marine Highway” program, an effort to shift freight to waterways from congested U.S. highways, the United States Department of Transportation announced the marine highway corridors and an initial eight projects and six initiatives along the corridors that will be available for federal assistance through this effort.

Since the America’s Marine Highway program was launched, the DOT said it has awarded $58 million in grants for projects to support the start-up or expansion of Marine Highway services. And it said it is making up to $7 million available in additional funding for designated projects, with applications due August 27.

The $58 million in grants were awarded through the DOT’s TIGER grants program. The concept for a national Marine Highway program was conceived from the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 that required the Secretary of Transportation to establish a short sea transportation program and designate short seas to mitigate surface transportation, according to the DOT.

Under “America’s Marine Highway” program, the DOT explained that regional transportation officials will be able to apply to have specific transportation corridors and individual projects designated by the DOT as a marine highway, provided they meet certain criteria. And once projects are designated, the DOT said they will receive preferential treatment for any future federal assistance from the DOT or MARAD (Maritime Administration).

“Making better use of our rivers and coastal routes offers an intelligent way to relieve some of the biggest challenges we face in transportation – congestion on our roads, climate change, fossil fuel energy use and soaring road maintenance costs,” said Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in a statement. “There is no better time for us to improve the use of our rivers and coasts for transportation.”

Marine Highway Benefits: Marine highways also provide other things for shippers that tend to get overlooked, according to maritime experts. One of these things is a natural disaster; a marine highway, experts said, offers a high degree of resiliency after a natural disaster, because it is not so infrastructure-dependent and supply chain operations can be resumed more quickly on the water.

And despite the fact that maritime shipping is not the most expedient form of freight transportation from point A to point B, shippers whom plan accordingly can leverage the reliability of knowing when a shipment is going to arrive and can plan accordingly for it. What’s more, the advantage of additional capacity available on marine highways that can allow shippers to move cargo and avoid congestion-related bottlenecks can also be a driver for these efforts if freight volumes pick up. This could prove to be advantageous for barge operators looking to start new marine services.

While today’s news of corridors, projects, and initiatives eligible for financial assistance is a positive step, its impact on port operators, carriers, and shippers remains to be seen, according to Mark Yonge, Managing Member of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based Maritime Transport & Logistics Advisors LLC, and vice-chair of the Coastwide Coalition.

“It is not a lot of money so it is hard to say the recipients will be able to do anything of large consequence,” said Yonge. “But the great thing is that it is at least a beginning and all of this is moving forward, even if it took three years until now for that to happen.”

Wayne McCormick, owner and webmaster for, an advocacy site for the marine highway program, said in a recent interview that this effort will help mitigate congestion for a lot of different trucking choke points throughout the country and reduce pollution levels, too. McCormick also pointed out that a lot of people have put in a lot of work to advocate for the Marine highways program, and policy makers are realizing it is a viable alternative and are joining the chorus of people who understand how important it is for the U.S. And even though there is only $7 million currently available in MARAD grants, he said it is a “down payment” on the future of the program, and it will develop future generations of operators to come forward and really start to develop it on a larger scale.

The DOT’s selected projects, which were chosen from 35 applications submitted by ports and local transportation agencies, include:
-Cross Sound Enhancements Project (Connecticut Department of Transportation) which is a project will improve ferry capacity and reduce environmental impacts by upgrades to three passenger vehicle/ferries operating between New London, CT, and Orient Point in Long Island, NY;
-New England Marine Highway Expansion Project (Maine Department of Transportation), which will expand an existing container-on-barge service operating between Newark, NJ, Boston, MA, and Portland, ME;
- Cross Gulf Container Expansion (Ports of Manatee, FL, and Brownsville, TX) which will expand an existing container-on-barge operation by increasing the frequency and capacity of the service between Brownsville, TX, and Port Manatee, FL, across the Gulf of Mexico;
-Tenn-Tom Waterway Pilot Project (Port Itawamba, MS), a new container-on-barge service between the Port of Itawamba, MS, on the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway and the Port of Mobile, AL, to function as the inland leg of a new route between deep draft Gulf Coast container terminals and manufacturing centers near Port Itawamba;
-Gulf Atlantic Marine Highway Project (South Carolina State Ports Authority and Port of Galveston, TX), a project intended to transport containerized freight between Gulf, Mid-Atlantic and South Atlantic coastal ports on a modern fleet of U.S. flag vessels;
-Detroit-Wayne County Ferry (Detroit/Wayne County Port Authority), a project to develop a cross-border passenger service between Detroit, MI, and Windsor, Ontario, Canada, focusing on transporting commuters.
-Trans-Hudson Rail Service (Port Authority of New York & New Jersey): this project proposes to expand the quality and capacity of an ongoing cross-harbor rail float service operating between the Greenville Rail Terminal in Jersey City, NJ, and Brooklyn, NY; and
-James River Container Expansion (Virginia Port Authority) a project to expand an existing container-on-barge service between the Hampton Roads region of Virginia and Richmond, VA, by increasing frequency of service and starting a new inter-terminal barge service in Hampton Roads.

The DOT also identified six initiatives eligible to apply for federal funding for further development of concepts, including: alternative means of shipping produce in New York; a New Jersey Marine Highway Initiative to develop a network of marine highway services within New Jersey and between New Jersey and ports in New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Maryland, and Virginia; an East Coast Marine Highway Initiative between Massachusetts, Maryland, and Florida; a West Coast Hub-Feeder Initiative for a potential intermodal distribution network along the coasts of Washington, Oregon, and California; a Golden State Marine Highway Initiative (Ports of Redwood City, Hueneme and San Diego; and the Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District), a joint effort by four California ports to improve the efficiency of freight movement by developing a service linking California’s ports to form a 1,100-mile Marine Highway along the west coast; and the Illinois-Gulf Marine Highway Initiative to examine opportunities for a Marine Highway service to support Midwest industrial production and operating between U.S. Gulf Coast seaports and Peoria, IL, via the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers.

About the Author

Jeff Berman, Group News Editor
Jeff Berman is Group News Editor for Logistics Management, Modern Materials Handling, and Supply Chain Management Review. Jeff works and lives in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, where he covers all aspects of the supply chain, logistics, freight transportation, and materials handling sectors on a daily basis. Contact Jeff Berman

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Article Topics

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