WJ Editorial
WJ Editorial

Inland Ports Deserve Their Own Grant Program

This week, we urge Waterways Journal readers to ask their representatives in Congress to establish a separate, dedicated funding program for inland ports alone.

In the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2019 (the budget bill that ended the government shutdown) signed on February 14, the Maritime Administration’s budget includes $200 million for the Port Infrastructure Development Program. But somehow inland ports were completely left out of this program.

Our nation’s freight transportation backbone, its ability to survive and compete globally, depends as much on America’s inland ports and terminals as on its large coastal ports and harbors. If we fail to address these challenges, rehabilitation and maintenance and operational needs have and will continue to lead to supply-chain disruptions and negatively impact the nation’s competitiveness in the global market.

This budget snub is only the latest example of continuous, long-standing neglect in Washington of inland ports and terminals when it comes to discretionary funding opportunities, especially when compared to other transportation modes.

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As Inland Rivers, Ports and Terminals (IRPT) points out, there are presently only limited funding opportunities, such as the BUILD and INFRA programs, that make inland port projects eligible for funding at all. Only a tiny percentage of total funding from those programs benefits port-type projects.

Inland ports must compete in grant programs designed with highways in mind. They cannot compete effectively against large highway projects for funding. Most inland port projects cannot even meet the $5 million project minimum required by current grant programs. Ironically, this is often because they are far less costly than the minimum required for those programs.

Inland port and terminal facilities are nationally significant assets of great value that need to be recognized as important regional supply chain nodes and merit one or more dedicated sources of discretionary funding.

IRPT is requesting that Congress introduce a new stand-alone Inland Ports and Terminals Grant Program dedicated to inland port and terminal projects.

While roads and bridges get the bulk of infrastructure attention, lawmakers and regulators often fail to consider not only the many broader benefits to the economy of inland ports and terminals, but the benefits to roads themselves of shifting traffic to waterways.

The inland waterways are the only transportation mode that has excess capacity, if supported. Should port and terminal facilities fail to meet infrastructure investments assisted by federal funding opportunities, the resulting cargo diversion could cause truck traffic to nearly double. This increase would significantly strain already-stressed and under-funded road systems.

In other words, it’s not really an either/or proposition. Helping inland waterways ports and terminals move more cargo helps roads, too.