Could it be that we are finally getting serious about waterways and port infrastructure? Have the floods of 2019, Hurricane Ida and the current supply chain difficulties concentrated everyone’s minds on the importance of water transportation?
The word everyone keeps using for the year 2021 in waterways infrastructure funding is “historic.” This is the year Congress passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, with its $2.5 billion and 100 percent federal funding for construction and major rehabilitation of inland waterways projects.
Following closely on its heels came the Maritime Administration’s Port Infrastructure Development Program that awarded more than $241 million in discretionary grants to 25 projects to improve port facilities in 19 states and one territory. The awardees include all types of ports including ocean, Great Lakes and inland. But in contrast to some rounds of transportation grants in years past, inland ports were well-represented this time around among this tranche of grant recipients.
Among the more notable inland port grants were a $1.6 million grant to the Ohio River Pier Project in Tell City, Ind.; $3.079 million to the Port of Little Rock Mooring Upgrade Project; $4.14 Million for the Granite City (Ill.) Harbor Extension Project; $3.32 million for the Bulk Yard Infrastructure Revitalization and Expansion Project in Paducah, Ky.; and $4.14 million for the Barge Terminal 2 Dock Wall Rehabilitation in St. Paul, Minn. These are all substantial projects that will result in noticeable improvements to river transportation.
Aimee Andres, executive director of Inland Rivers, Ports and Terminals, which was closely involved with the passage of the bill that included the PIDP grants, said she is seeing “more growth than we have ever seen before in infrastructure investment.”
This critical mass of funding, combined with appropriations and the funding that will soon be announced in the Corps’ Work Plan from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, promises a truly new day of waterway infrastructure advancement and improvements. In the face of ongoing challenges in transportation and logistics, it comes not a moment too soon.
The competitiveness of U.S. shippers depends on investments at this level, and for it to continue in future years. The success of any plan that has a hope to significantly reduce carbon emissions also depends on adequate investment in our vast and unique marine highways.