Marine Transportation System

Archive for October, 2010|Monthly archive page

We’re Just Getting Started

In Marine Highway, MTS Policy on October 8, 2010 at 10:04 am

[This first appeared in the America’s Marine Highway website and newsletter.]

Advocating for the AMH: We’re Just Getting Started

If we’ve learned anything about the developing American marine highway it is that it is developing incrementally and slowly.  A few nice-sized steps but no big leaps.

I have little doubt that the market will eventually demand greater use of the marine mode for domestic goods movement as the limits of landside capacity reach an economic tipping point and the imperative strengthens to use less fuel and produce fewer emissions. But the question to ask is whether it is wise to wait.  In 2007 Congress answered the question…sort of.

In a multi-faceted “energy independence and security” bill the energy efficiency of the marine mode was recognized. With the signing of Public Law 110-140 Washington said that it would be to the nation’s benefit to make greater use of coastwise and inland marine transportation. The U.S. Department of Transportation was handed a program outline and a few tools. It was told to return to Congress with recommendations as to any additional things that might be done to make it work. (No report as yet.) Then in 2009 Congress gave its approval to a grant program and appropriated a modest sum of $7 million.  [Note: since this writing grants were awarded.]

This year USDOT finally stepped up to implement that new policy and program. In August some projects were designated as eligible for grant funding and others were identified as “initiatives” to be encouraged.

The starting gun sounded on the American Marine Highway program…thus also signaling one of very few opportunities to improve the outlook for U.S. flag shipping.

There’s much to be done here in Washington. Federal funding is not the be-all and end-all of the marine highway program but it is crucial. Funding is how policy intent is measured in Washington. Is the $7 million the start of a serious effort or just flash-in-the-pan funding? Without an AMH budget for the Maritime Administration it will not have the program and staff resources to do much of anything in the next years. Without funding for AMH grants the Federal program will seem toothless. States and other transportation planners will ignore it. Start-ups may go only a short distance for lack of resources to secure that needed barge or crane.

Likewise, the policy provisions signed by President George W. Bush in 2007 are just a toe in the door. The next Congress should look more deeply into how marine highways can contribute to the overall transportation system and then decide what to do about it and the shipyard infrastructure needed to support it. I think there is plenty the legislature and this change-minded administration can do about it.

The next year or two will be a critical period that will decide if the new marine highway policy is to be taken seriously. Grant funding in FY 2011, commencing October 1, is unlikely, but it need not be a serious blow to the marine highway effort. For starters, we need to work to secure funding in the FY2012 budget and strengthen interest among policy makers.

Progress in the next years may continue to come in small increments along with an occasional large step. It is not easy to turn around business thinking about logistics or change attitudes in government about the role of domestic waterborne shipping but it can be done. Whether the marine highway effort in Washington falters or advances will depend on how strong and effective is the advocate crew…those of us who want to see more stars and stripes flying on the water.  Pbea

What Are We Doing?

In Efficiency, Infrastructure, Intermodal, Surface Transportation Policy on October 7, 2010 at 10:09 pm

Canada announced a waiver of its 25 percent import tariff on general cargo vessel, tankers, and ferries longer than 129 meters.  The decision will save shipowners $25 million per year over the next decade.

“This duty relief will accelerate the renewal of the Canadian marine fleet across the country and will help replace aging vessels with cleaner, safer and more efficient ships,” said the Chuck Strahl, Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities.  “All the while, it will build on unprecedented investments our Government has made in Canada’s infrastructure and gateways by contributing to the upgrading of marine transportation links across the country.”  (Marine Log, October 4, emphasis added)

The announced tariff initiative should bring into the Great Lakes newer and more efficient competition for the existing commercial fleet flying the US flag.  Perhaps it will stimulate new shipping activity on the Lakes, which would be good.  Ships will move goods more efficiently to the benefit of energy savings and air quality.

If you have the feeling that our friends to the north are thinking and acting strategically, with an eye to the large American market, it is because they are…as they should.

Will Washington watch and learn?  Or will the dusty ol’ status quo continue to be good enough  for US?  In using this most recent example of Canadian initiative I refer to nothing so specific as Jones Act requirements but, broadly, to the insufficient attention and action to address the glaring need here, especially on the marine transportation system.

Much is known as to the general direction of the Obama Administration’s thinking on transportation policy—passenger rail, public transit, livable communities, sustainability, etc.—if not about detailed proposals.   But when it comes to goods movement little has been said.

Officials at USDOT acknowledge having been slow to focus on the subject of freight.  Early on there was the view that the heavy volume of international cargo ramping onto US highways and rails was the sort of thing not meriting Federal attention–“making imported flip-flops even cheaper” was the oft quoted line–as if that were the sum total of goods movement pressures in the country.   The thinking since last year boiled down to the notion that the freight sector will take care of itself, as Transportation Under Secretary for Policy Roy Kienitz acknowledged last week.  The private sector nature of goods movement could lead one to that view, I suppose.

However, Roy Kienitz went on to indicate that more thought is going into the subject now.  He said that a presentation by Canada’s ministry of transportation on their gateway strategy made a strong impression on him.  The strategy is a public/private initiative.  He noted it is intended to attract more North American import/export trade through their British Columbia and Atlantic ports and thus make Canadian operations significant players deep into the American Midwest market.

In the Canadian initiative he can appreciate how government can play an important role working with the freight sector.  Hopefully USDOT also understands that the American transportation sector can lose business if we just sit and watch while others press ahead.

In fairness, a good percentage of USDOT-issued TIGER grants went to rail, marine highway and other freight related projects earlier this year.  We take that as a positive sign.  But the longer it takes official Washington to actually do something structural about America’s aging infrastructure, the capacity to handle growing freight volumes, and a listless maritime sector the more ground we lose.

The examples of strategic planning and investing abound around the world including just north of here.

What are we doing down here?    Pbea

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