WJ Editorial
WJ Editorial

Marine Highway Designations Growing

The Maritime Administration recently announced nine new Marine Highway designations. Designation is supposed to give projects better access to federal grant programs.

Three of the new designations are for ferry routes, in Seattle, Bridgeport/Port Jefferson in Long Island Sound, and American Samoa.

Several support containerization on the waterways. The Port of Oswego (New York) Great Lakes Container Service supports the port’s goal of “expanding its reach into national containerized cargo movements.” The Port of Morrow (Washington)’s designation is aimed at “increas[ing] the economic competitiveness of the region…through new opportunities for barge shipping to and from the port along M-84.” The Wallops Island Intermodal Barge Service in Virginia will support Virginia Space’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport. Another designated marine highway, the M-95 Fernandina Beach to Charleston Barge Service, will support a new barge service for the Port of Fernandina, the northernmost county on Florida’s Atlantic coast.

Except for Morrow, these new designations mentioned so far serve coastal or Great Lakes areas. Of most interest to inland mariners is the proposed Houston Gateway & Gulf Container-on-Barge Central Node, which is to serve the M-69, M-146 and M-10 marine highways.

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The latest round of INFRA infrastructure grants totaling $856 million, recently announced by Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, included 10 “large” and 10 “small” projects. Three of these were port-related, but none went to inland ports. PortMiami will get $8.04 million grant, the second in as many years, for Seaboard Marine Terminal rehab and expansion. The port of Baltimore will get $125 million for a railroad tunnel. A bulkhead on the Cuyahoga River Ship Channel will be replaced and the collapse of a riverbank will be prevented.

Maritime Administrator Mark Buzby has been an active and energetic promoter of the Marine Highway program, and a strong supporter of commercial navigation. Inland shipyards did well out of this year’s Small Shipyard program, a program we praised.

We understand that one of the purposes of the Marine Highway designations is to relieve highway congestion in dense coastal areas, in part by promoting barge traffic in areas where it has been nonexistent or underdeveloped. We also note that since President Donald Trump redirected focus to rural infrastructure, those areas have been getting more grants. A look at the larger picture of federal grants reinforces our support of a single federal program to focus federal grants specifically on commercial inland waterways and ports.