Marine Transportation System

Archive for December, 2009|Monthly archive page

Mile Markers on the Marine Highway

In Intermodal, Marine Highway, Surface Transportation Policy on December 18, 2009 at 12:42 pm

Since the notion of American marine highways helping to mitigate landside congestion took root early this decade–along with the call for Federal policy and program–voices have been heard to ask, “so, where is it?”   “What happened to those promised new short sea services?”  Why isn’t [big box retailer] using coastal shipping?

Cynics who habitually dismiss the competitiveness of U.S. flag shipping eagerly seize opportunity to validate their view.  Observers see their doubts re-enforced or just wonder if there is any there there.

Meanwhile, advocates are impatient for government to concur with the public benefits rationale by enacting major policy directives and funding game changing projects.  (There is also the understandable impatience of entrepreneurial risk takers whose initiatives could use a short term assist to help establish themselves in the market.)

I count among those seeking a decisive boost for new marine highway operations.  But expectations are tempered by the Washington experience.  To keep our sanity folks here learn to tolerate the tortoise pace of policy-craft.   We look for the smallish increments that represent progress, even as we look to accomplish greater things farther down the road.

So what  progress has been made?

Those are the highlights, added to by various research papers and reports.  It is worth noting that the above achievements are not the result of a well-funded, cohesive effort by a powerful maritime industry lobby.  (Indeed, one might argue that none of those modifiers apply, especially when compared to other transportation sectors.)  They largely were achieved by decision-makers coming to recognize the inherent advantages of domestic marine transportation, and with the encouragement of various labor, port, public agency and private sector advocates (as well as the Coastwise Coalition that I chair) who have validated that policy direction.

So what progress will we see in the coming year or two?

  • USDOT will announce the multimodal TIGER grants and we will learn if applicants whose projects would enhance new AMH services–such as Eco Transport (CA) and SeaBridge Freight (TX/FL)–are among the awardees.
  • MARAD will issue a final rule for the SST/AMH  program, designate AMH coastal and inland corridors, and call for projects.
  • USDOT will report to Congress on hindrances to AMH development and make recommendations, some of which may resemble recommendations made to the Secretary in 2009 by the Marine Transportation System National Advisory Council.
  • MARAD will issue a rule for the new grants program and, with the cooperation of the Secretary, will make every effort to award grants by October 2010.
  • President Obama’s FY 2011 budget will include a specific funding request for SST grants.
  • Congress will act on the legislation to exempt from the Harbor Maintenance Tax non-bulk cargo that moves between US ports and among Great Lakes ports.
  • Congress will consider new surface transportation policy that to some extent will recognize how AMH routes can benefit traditional users of congested land routes.

That’s what I see happening.    Pbea

Obama Jobs Initiative: Meaning in Missing Words?

In Infrastructure, Ports on December 8, 2009 at 4:19 pm

This is what is in the president’s jobs proposal announced today with respect to infrastructure investment:

2. Investing in America’s Roads, Bridges and Infrastructure

Additional investment in highways, transit, rail, aviation and water. The President is calling for new investments in a wide range of infrastructure, designed to get out the door as quickly as possible while continuing a sustained effort at creating jobs and improving America’s productivity.

Support for merit-based infrastructure investment that leverages federal dollars. The Administration supports financing infrastructure investments in new ways, allowing projects to be selected on merit and leveraging money with a combination of grants and loans as was done through the Recovery Act’s TIGER program.

The second paragraph is a reference to the over-subscribed TIGER grant program for which a broad range of transportation projects are eligible and awardees will be announced no later than February.  The administration has shown an affinity for “merit-based” grants (as opposed to congressional earmarks and formula funding).   USDOT loves it because it puts the Secretary in the position to judge what projects are worth funding and to apply White House principles such as emission reduction.

With so little in the way of detail we might infer from the first paragraph that the Marine Transportation System may not be as much as part of the next jobs bill as it was in ARRA signed in February.  Does the Obama administration include port or marine transportation as eligible for job stimulus funding?  Especially for  the “out the door” quickly category?

Certainly connecting roads and rail are valuable elements of the MTS but when the president’s proposal for infrastructure funding uses the term “water” it may not mean maritime.  I think it means water and sewer infrastructure, which would appeal greatly to capital starved municipal governments but do little for marine highway and other MTS infrastructure needs.

Prior references by Congress and the administration to funding maritime related projects as part of ARRA used the word “port“ along with rail, highway and transit projects.  No mention of port or maritime in the White House statement or the president’s remarks at the Brookings Institution today.

That said, port/maritime projects were eligible for TIGER grants, which the White House appears to want to continue.  But almost by definition TIGER grant money doesn’t flow in a matter of couple months.  The first grant announcements won’t be made until close to a year after the funds were appropriated by Congress in February 2009.  Indeed, I’m told that White House officials said after the president’s remarks that some part of the infrastructure element of the s announcement today may not be intended to pour money into the system over the short term.

The White released an outline today.   The administration and Congress will put flesh on the bones and maybe once the House and Senate take up legislation early next year ports and  marine transportation, including capital needs for marine highway development, will be eligible.

For that to happen, the industry will have to make its case.     Pbea

What Industry Knew and Congress Didn’t Want to Hear

In Security on December 4, 2009 at 1:18 am

A General Accountability Office (GAO) report and the testimony of the Secretary Janet Napolitano of the Department of Homeland Security were the centerpiece of a Senate hearing on transportation security two days ago.  The report covered several issues but one was of particular interest:  How well Customs and Border Protection is implementing a congressional mandate to scan 100 percent of US-bound containers.  According to GAO –

CBP has not developed a plan to scan 100 percent of U.S.-bound container cargo by 2012, but has a strategy to expand [Secure Freight Initiative] to select ports where it will mitigate the greatest risk of WMD entering the United States. CBP does not have a plan to scan cargo containers at all ports because, according to agency officials, challenges encountered thus far in implementing SFI indicate that doing so worldwide will be difficult to achieve.    ….   Recognizing that its strategy will not meet the requirement to scan all U.S.-bound cargo containers, DHS plans to issue a blanket extension to all foreign ports by July 2012 to be in compliance with the 9/11 Act.

Secretary Napolitano’s testimony spoke to the “challenges” in meeting the 100 percent mandate.  “Certain challenges are logistical….  there are multiple points of entry, and cargo is “transshipped”….  ports are not configured to put in place detection equipment….   limitations inherent in available technology….  the absence of technology [to] automatically detect suspicious anomalies within cargo containers….  x-ray systems have limited penetration capability….  currently unworkable without seriously hindering the flow of shipments or redesigning the ports themselves, which would require huge capital investment.

“While DHS is pursuing technological solutions to these problems, expanding screening with available technology would slow the flow of commerce and drive up costs to
consumers without bringing significant security benefits,” the Secretary said.

As Bob Edmonson of the Journal of Commerce reported,  Commerce, Science & Transportation Committee chair Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) acknowledged that, “I don’t think we have any choice.”  “I don’t want to do it, but it’s something that can’t realistically, and in some ways responsibly, be done — and in some cases does not need to be done.”

Most if not all of the challenges reported by Secretary Napolitano are pretty much what ports and the logistics community told the legislators back in 2006/2007.   But Democrats, mostly, prevailed in making the issue of 100 percent scanning of imported cargo second only to the DP World fiasco as the most familiar port issue in American households.

Either the wisdom that comes from the passing of time, or the change of administration, appears to be helping legislators comprehend what Napolitano’s Republican predecessor and the trade logistics community tried to explain back then.    Pbea

Rail + Road + Water = Surface Freight System

In Efficiency, Intermodal, Surface Transportation Policy on December 1, 2009 at 1:32 pm

Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) released a study in November comparing truck and rail fuel efficiency.  It’s an update of a 1991 FRA report.

The new study identifies rail as more efficient.  No surprise there.

The report, Comparative Evaluation of Rail and Truck Fuel Efficiency on Competitive Corridors (November 19, 2009), should be useful to Secretary Ray LaHood in developing a new freight policy.  But he should not leave it at road and rail.  Marine transport–the wet surface transportation–should be in the mix.

The Secretary has spoken about the need to understand how marine transportation can be better integrated with the surface transportation system.  He has identified marine highway development–and the capacity it would bring to domestic freight transportation system–as an administration objective.

The MARAD-funded TTI modal comparison report is very helpful in understanding how barge transportation compares to rail and road.  Does that tell us all we need to know?  After all, there’s more to domestic marine freight movement than tugs and barges.  More to the point, there’s more in store for coastwise and inland services than what is on the water today.  How would the planned, new Ro-Ro and container vessels compare to rail and truck?   Policy makers need complete 3-mode data to make complete policy decisions.

The freight logistics industry has pointed to the lack of a national freight policy.  The Freight Stakeholders Coalition announced in May its suggested “platform” for a freight policy.  As the platform suggests the policy should “foster operational and environmental efficiencies in goods movement.”  The platform also calls for the establishment of a “multi-modal freight office” in the Office of the Secretary (OST) in the interest of advancing freight mobility.

A multi-modal view that is not hampered by an old view of how transportation works is what is called for today.  Greater fuel efficiency isn’t an ideological issue.  It’s very much an economic matter to business and a bi-partisan policy matter as we understand the country’s interest in energy security.  Likewise we see environmental issues–emissions, particularly–becoming more of a business and policy concern.

That’s why the developers of the GIFT model are attracting interest.   Dr. James Corbett of the University of Delaware and Dr. James Winebrake of the Rochester Institute of  Technology–with the support of USDOT, MARAD and others–are developing the Geospatial Intermodal Freight Transportation (GIFT) model.  GIFT enables the fuel and emission comparison of modes for specific freight routes.  In other words, logistics planners soon will have a tool that goes beyond the one-sided “carbon calculator” analysis available on some rail and marine transportation company websites.

Corbett and Winebrake add further value with their IF-TOLD Mitigation Framework that they describe as “A Context for Mode Shifting Discussions.”

Some good work is being done to provide more information for making modal decisions and enable the development of smarter freight policy.  With any luck the policy makers will determine what multi-modal information is available as well as what additional information is needed before deciding on a long overdue national freight policy and the successor to SAFETEA-LU.   Pbea

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.