Ports & Terminals

CORBA Seeks Barge Opportunities For Marine Highway Project

The Central Ohio River Business Association’s regional maritime committee talked about promoting its designated marine highway project as well as grant funding proposals during its meeting May 6.

More than 20 people attended the committee meeting, which was held online using the videoconferencing software Zoom.

Chairman Eric Thomas refreshed participants’ memories of the CORBA winter meeting in February, where Timothy Pickering, operations development manager for the U.S. Department of Transportation Maritime Administration (MarAd), presented a certificate formally designating a new short-haul service along the M-70 marine highway route as a marine highway project, making it an approved project eligible for potential federal grant funding.

“That’s a huge win for our region,” Thomas said. “We need to build on that.”

The Ohio Kentucky Indiana Regional Council of Governments (OKI), the region’s metropolitan planning organization, applied for and received the project designation on behalf of Nucor Steel. The project, formally titled “M-70 Barge Service in the Ports of Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky and Beyond,” uses a regularly scheduled short-haul barge service to replace trucks connecting Nucor Steel’s manufacturing facilities in Gallatin County, Ky., with customers in the Cincinnati and Louisville markets. The project encompasses five ports: the Port of Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky; Port of Brandenburg, Ky.; Port of Indiana-Jeffersonville; Port of Louisville, Ky.; and Port of Paducah, Ky.

Robyn Bancroft, strategic initiatives manager for OKI, explained more about the marine highway program, saying in essence it’s a three-step process: getting a marine highway designation, having projects approved along that marine highway and then requesting available federal grants within the scope of the project.

Such grants are one of the  few avenues available by which private industry can take advantage of federal funds to expand shipping by water, she said. Applying for funding is a good opportunity for companies to try pilot projects that will take trucks off the road, relieving traffic congestion while at the same time better utilizing the inland river transportation system. Proposed projects that involve tangible products are preferred, but planning, design and engineering studies are allowed, Bancroft said. However, the program does not permit funding for market-related studies or for any bulk commodity programs. Any approved project requires at least a 20 percent local match.

So far, she said, there are 34 approved projects along 26 designated marine highways throughout the country. In essence, she said, project designation allows additional attention and support from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

OKI can apply for grant funding on behalf of any port or private industry within the project area. The approved Nucor project moves 60 large steel coils at once, rather than one per tractor-trailer rig. The designation will also expand service in the M-70 corridor by allowing the region’s ports to compete for federal funding that will build upon Nucor’s example to improve freight-handling infrastructure, promote intermodal connections and make similar modal shifts from roadway to river transportation. OKI has recently submitted applications for funding that would move steel plating as well as a separate Ports of Indiana project. Together, Bancroft said, the projects would total $3.5 million.

Thomas said he would like the regional maritime committee to include some new areas of focus in its mission statement, to leverage the marine highway project designation obtained in February in order to actively seek and promote additional opportunities within it as well as to lead the development of strategies to identify and cultivate additional projects within the M-70 corridor.

Part of that mission will involve helping shippers to understand the marine highway project, Thomas said. Thomas also believes the committee can help assist OKI in reviewing and prioritizing project applications.

Bancroft said that with these focuses she is hopeful that the next time the government opens an opportunity for grant funding for approved projects, likely next spring, OKI will be able to submit another funding request for a port or company within the project area.

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