In 2007 Congress approved marine highways as a new policy direction in a measure signed into law by President George W. Bush. The Secretary of Transportation “shall designate short sea transportation routes as extensions of the surface transportation system…” and is authorized to “designate” short sea transportation projects.
Yesterday President Barack Obama signed a bill containing an addition to the policy and program. “The Secretary shall establish and implement a short sea transportation grant program to implement projects or components” of a designated project.
Originally sponsored by Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) the grant provision was part of a Maritime Administration Authorization Act, subsequently folded into a Defense Department Authorization bill (see title XXXV) that went to the White House.
This is a welcome addition to the still new policy initiative to increase marine highway use in the United States. It is a modest but important enhancement of the 2007 law. Money gives meaning to policy. Even if it is just $15 million, the amount that the Administration is prepared to spend if Congress were to appropriate it. (The Senate version of the still unresolved DOT appropriations bill contains funding.) Indeed the Maritime Administration budget plan includes $15 million for each of the next couple of years.
The new grant program is broadly writ. To be eligible to apply for funding a project must be “financially viable” and demonstrate that “a market exists” for the project services. The Federal grant could be no more than 80 percent of the cost for which the money would be used. That use presumably would be to cover capital costs. We will see how the Maritime Administration further defines the new grant program through regulation in the months ahead. Before they do that MARAD will finalize the rulemaking first published for comment in October 2008 regarding the designation of routes and projects. Pbea