WJ Editorial

Marine Highway Grants Help Build COB Infrastructure

On June 15, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao announced $9.5 million in grants for the America’s Marine Highway program. Of the eight projects that were awarded grants, seven are located in Opportunity Zones, which were created to spread grant money to stimulate and support private investment in low-income and economically distressed communities.

Five of the eight grants are for projects on the inland waterways. Several of them will enhance and build up the infrastructure to support container-on-vessel movements. A $3.2 million grant to Tidewater Barge Lines will support the expansion of barge services from the Port of Morrow on the Columbia River in Boardman, Ore., to Vancouver, Wash. A $1,268,800 grant to America’s Central Port District in Granite City, Ill., will support the purchase of a 275-ton crane, 18 cameras and their installation, and a container tilter.

A grant of $778,350 to SEACOR AMH, sponsored by the Port of New Orleans, will help provide permanent dunnage fabrication and installation in 29 of its existing pool of barges.  The award will support the continued growth of the Memphis, Tenn., to Port Allen, La., container shuttle service and allow the movement of 10 percent more containers per barge.

In the New York area, the U.S. Coastal Service Inc. was awarded a $308,000 grant to support the launch of a new barge service between Kearny Point, N.J., and Newtown Creek, N.Y.  The project is in early days; the award will fund “the planning, permitting, and engineering studies required to start operation.” The goal is to “establish New York Harbor and its ports as a premier marine highway hub for barge services while reducing traffic by eliminating up to 6,000 truck-miles per week.”

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Since 2016, MarAd has provided $33.8 million in grants to 18 projects for the America’s Marine Highway Program. “The continued expansion and modernization of the U.S. marine transportation system benefits the maritime industry,” said Maritime Administrator Mark H. Buzby. “U.S. waterway freight systems offer a safe and efficient option for shippers and reduce road traffic and emissions while providing jobs, commerce and crucial resources to dozens of communities across multiple states.”

Less than two months ago, the Maritime Administration awarded $19.6 million in discretionary grants to 24 U.S. small shipyards through the Small Shipyard Grant Program. Most of these grants supported purchases of cranes, presses and other heavy equipment that will improve operations and/or add services to the yards.

The total amount expended so far on the Marine Highway program is less than the rounding errors in some agencies’ annual budgets, yet the benefits of the projects supported have been substantial, widespread and cumulative. Those benefits will continue to grow as the economy recovers and traffic picks up again. The COB projects alone funded in this round of grants promise to take thousands of trucks off the roads once they are completed, while increasing the efficiency of our transportation system. We can think of few more cost-effective and worthwhile federal programs.