Marine Transportation System

Posts Tagged ‘LaHood’

So Spake the Freight Stakeholders

In Congress, Federal Government, Intermodal, Surface Transportation Policy on June 4, 2012 at 11:49 am

The Freight Stakeholders Coalition–a group of 18 or more organizations–spoke  freight to power.  But in today’s Washington, where the policy makers often wear policy blinders, will the Deciders (to use Dubya-speak) listen to the goods movement call for change?

Back in 2005, when SAFETEA-LU came out of the House-Senate conference cooker, the Stakeholders were dumbfounded to realize that the negotiators cut from the bill a key freight provision on which there had seemed to be agreement.   It was a 2 percent set-aside funding requirement for freight related projects.

It didn’t take long for the Stakeholders to regroup, this time in sync with the 50+ State DOT leaders (AASHTO), and produce a 10-point paper making a collective case for goods movement policy.    Still feeling the SAFETEA-LU sting years later the Stakeholders sent a letter to House and Senate conferees–the people tasked with coming up with a surface transportation bill to send to the President.  The letter contains the 10-point paper and concludes:

Now more than ever, the needs of our goods movement network must be addressed as system use continues to grow in lockstep with America’s recovering economy. The inclusion of a national freight plan with supporting policies, strategy and funding will help ensure America’s international competitiveness, create jobs and bolster the U.S. economic recovery.

But will the conferees–who largely take their cue from a small number of party and committee leaders–get it done?  As we learned from the sad SAFETEA-LU experience just because there are fairly substantial freight provisions in the MAP-21 Senate bill (S. 1813) doesn’t mean the final product will take goods movement seriously.   Besides, the House-passed version (H.R. 4348) was a Plan B vehicle to get to conference with the Senate.  It doesn’t have freight provisions.  For that matter, the version that was reported from the Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, but which failed to get to a House vote, H.R. 7, contains little in the way of substantive freight provisions.

Will the conferees get it done?  Larry Ehl rightly has cause to ask a more basic question: Are Transportation Bill Negotiations on the Rocks?  Ben Goldman also see bad news clues.  Pessimists, which may include most who work around Washington these days, would observe that this particular Congress seems to want to get not much done.  Some legislators–tea partiers especially–would proudly label that an achievement.

I still think it can get a bill done, however, despite a significant push by the private sector for strong freight provisions, one wonders what the House conferees will agree to.  Moving on…

Days after sending their letter to the conferees the Stakeholders gave cheers for a senator’s letter to Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood.

In her letter of May 31, Maria Cantwell (D-WA) told Secretary LaHood to “tear down bureaucratic barriers and inefficiencies” in the modally stove-piped department by creating a freight-focused operation in the Office of the Secretary.  The senator pointed to ways that her home state has realized benefits of “freight coordination, prioritization, and collaboration” between the public and private sectors.

Over the years Congress has been importuned to create a freight office, establish an assistant secretary post for goods movement, etc.  But silly arguments about expanding government and creating new bureaucracy usually keeps those ideas from being given a serious hearing.  The implementing agency of national transportation policy remains structured as if the modes rarely if ever meet.

But as we know, in the real world they are meeting with ever increasing frequency as the market seeks ever more efficient ways to getting the job done.  On dock rail.  Intermodal yards.  Trains to airports.  Boxes shuttled from trucks to ships to barges to trucks to rail to….

The senator’s letter speaks to the need for a  “high-level and coordinated multimodal freight initiative.” *  She reminded the Secretary he doesn’t have to wait for Congress to create a formal structure.

… I strongly encourage you to establish a high-level and coordinated multimodal freight initiative at the U.S. Department of Transportation using your existing administrative authority.  If established, this initiative office should report directly to you, include a special assistant designated with specific responsibility for freight movement, and endeavor to improve federal freight policy, planning, and investment across all modes.

Or as one might say in Obama-speak: Yes, he can.

Secretary LaHood is leaving the Obama Administration later this year.  Let this be his gift to his successor.  He can set up a freight office down the hall from his own.  He can start the process of directing the DOT stovepipes, which in truth do talk to each other about some freight objectives and the occasional project, to be even more intentional about it.  He can ask his modal administrators and freight staff for their input on how best to get it done.  But most of all he can make a serious effort–as serious as his pretty effective distracted driving campaign–to bring his department and government policy to where the mostly private sector freight innovators have been for a good long while.   Pbea

* Kudos to the Coalition for America’s Gateways and Trade Corridors for its diligent efforts in advancing the freight message on Capitol Hill.

Our Friend and Partner, Mr. Truck

In Efficiency, Intermodal, Marine Highway, Surface Transportation Policy on May 12, 2010 at 12:16 am

Everyone who thinks there are too many rigs on the roads, raise your hand.  If today you used something that arrived on a truck, raise your other hand.

You can put both hands down.

Bill Graves, President of the ATA, has taken umbrage at some of the recent rhetoric in Washington.  Not much love is being heard.  Just “take trucks off the road.”

It must have hurt to read this sharpened lead in a recent Journal of Commerce cover story:  “The Obama administration is forming a national freight transportation policy that can be boiled down to one concept: Get more trucks off the roads.”

In his April 30, 2010 letter to Secretary Ray LaHood Mr. Graves points to USDOT’s favorable references to, and funding of, intermodal rail and marine highway as ways to “take trucks off the road.”  The Trucker-in-Chief disagrees.

Of course Secretary LaHood has good reason to point to rail and water.  We all know intermodal rail is more fuel efficient than moving packages downhill on a Soap Box Derby special.  (That’s the only image the RRs have yet to use in their non-stop ads.)  So much more efficient that environmental organizations have become the railroads’ best advocates here in town.

And barges can carry even more tonnage on a whiff of what is in a locomotive’s fuel tank.   Too bad far fewer people know it (although the barge industry is trying to do something about that).

There are great efficiencies to be realized in the rail and marine modes.  Moving some truck loads to rail and water routes can be both good business and policy.

But here’s a shocker.  Trucks aren’t going away.  Not unless you want to have to trek down to the docks to pick up your new flat screen.  Or to the farm to get your cabbage.

The “off the road” talk is shorthand.  Not the full story.  The policy talk doesn’t single out just trucks.  It’s just that one doesn’t hear politicos say “take cars off the road” nearly as much.  Yet that also is part of USDOT’s “livable community” message.

Under Secretary Roy Kienitz said in his March testimony about the TIGER-like National Infrastructure Investments program that it  “focuses funding on investments in whichever modes are most effective in achieving our national transportation goals…”

The policy talk is about making the most of each of the modes.  Using the modes where they are most efficient in moving the goods.  Where possible make the long haul on rail much as trucking increasingly is hopping the freight…much as trucks will become customers of freight ferries and other coastal services.  Maybe even become owners.

And notwithstanding some of the words used by short sea advocates, the marine highway effort is not about putting trucks and their drivers off the road and out of business.  It’s about giving trucking logistics another route to take and an opportunity to rationalize operations.

Bill Graves is right to complain about glib “off the road” talk.  There are better ways to describe the future role of trucks, water and rail in the national transportation system.   Pbea

Good Things to Hear — Pt. 2

In Efficiency, Infrastructure, Intermodal, Surface Transportation Policy on May 1, 2010 at 11:34 pm

This except from the opening of  “A National Intermodal Shift” by W. Cassidy and J. Boyd of the Journal of Commerce, April 5, 2010:

The Obama administration is forming a national freight transportation policy that can be boiled down to one concept: Get more trucks off the roads.

Key officials are increasingly making it clear they want to move a larger percentage of the nation’s intercity freight by rail or water, to take pressure off congested and crumbling highways and to help improve the environment.

“We want to keep goods movement on water as long as possible, and then on rail as long as possible and truck it for the last miles,” Deputy Transportation Secretary John Porcari said at a March 24 Senate committee hearing. [emphasis added]

In a single sentence, Porcari described what appears to be the most sweeping change in a generation in the federal government’s approach to shipping and transportation, promising an ambitious and concerted effort to redirect the way freight flows through the country’s long-standing supply networks.

The JOC cover story is intriguing to the reform minded (and unwelcome to the road-minded).  It builds on recent statements made by DOT officials in interviews and Hill hearings.  The view that is emerging from the Secretary’s office is a policy perspective that adheres less to modal stovepipes (and whether there is a pot of money devoted to a stovepipe) and more to intermodal efficiency.  It first asks if a project would provide public benefit and secondarily whether the infrastructure is in public or private hands.  Under Secretary for Policy Roy Kienitz testified at a March 17 House hearing.  He opened by outlining the principles that are guiding the Administration’s developing transportation policy.

Secretary [Ray] LaHood has decided to focus on five key strategic goals as priorities in our national transportation policy – safety, economic competitiveness, state of good repair, livability, and environmental sustainability.  Our policy on freight transportation grows out of our focus on these five key strategic goals. We want a freight policy that will allow us to target our investments on projects that are most effective in allowing us to achieve these goals.

Later in the statement Roy Kienitz said this:

Whether freight infrastructure is publicly-owned or privately-owned, it produces a mix of public and private benefits. Shippers and other customers of the freight transportation system derive private benefits from freight transportation, and the Nation as a whole derives public benefits from our freight transportation infrastructure, whether that infrastructure is publicly or privately owned. Freight that moves on more energy-efficient modes – whether the right-of-way is publicly or privately owned – enhances our energy independence and reduces adverse climate change effects. Freight that moves on a lower-cost right-of-way – whether publicly or privately owned – enhances our economic competitiveness by preserving capital for hiring and additional capital investments. The most sensible freight transportation policy will be one that directs transportation infrastructure investment to where it will have the greatest impact on our desired outcomes, regardless of whether those modes are publicly or privately owned, or whether they have their own source of trust fund revenues.

Given the opportunity to initiate a  multimodal grant program DOT is applying principles like  transportation efficiency and public benefit.  It explains over $300 million in TIGER grants going to expanding double stack rail corridor capacity and to port improvements.

These are not your typical Federally supported projects.  Then again, what we are starting to hear out of 1200 New Jersey Avenue is not your typical transportation policy.   Pbea

What TIGER Tells Us

In Marine Highway, Surface Transportation Policy on February 23, 2010 at 12:39 pm

No, not that Tiger.

The eagerly awaited TIGER grants were announced last week.  An experiment in government.  Against their better judgment members of the House and Senate gave $1.5 billion to the Administration and left it to the discretion of USDOT program managers, modal administrators, the Secretary (and perhaps the White House, just in case) to decide what projects were worthy.  (Egads! The bureaucrats!)

The multimodal discretionary grants program—later assigned a name and acronym at USDOT—was created a year ago in the cauldron in which Congress cooked up the economic recovery package.  The context was job creation in a failing economy.  But the genius of TIGER’s tenacious sponsors—most visibly Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA)—was that it also was a good time to try something different.  Politics would always be lurking in the background (if not in the foreground) when doling out tax revenue for public works but this was not a time for the earmarking norm.

Also lurking was the thought: if this works it could set the example for a change in transportation policy.

Lisa Caruso of the National Journal asks in her transportation “experts” blog if TIGER should be replicated in the surface transportation authorization bill.  Can it serve as a model for the revised policy and programs that many of us look for in the bill?

So far the respondents (scroll thru the page) generally agree there is benefit in the approach.  What’s not to like? Livable community folks liked the selection of street car and pedestrian path projects.  Goods movement was given a strong boost with around $300 million going to rail projects.  And it was good to see that at least one of the promising marine highway initiatives was granted $30 million.  (The first of many one hopes.)  That award illustrates how TIGER–and Secretary Ray LaHood–was open to more than the usual road, transit and bike path projects.

By and large, very good projects were selected.  But the question posed by Caruso is whether TIGER represents a policy approach worth continuing.

Some of the respondents think TIGER is a good starting point but that it is important to change the underlying policy.   In particular Steve Heminger notes it is not enough to create a grants program that is mode neutral.  An improved Federal policy and program should have a clearer, focused national perspective e.g., goods movement and metropolitan mobility.  It is a view I share.

Bob Poole raises an important policy question worth debating by suggesting an underlying weakness of a multimodal approach if a highway tax is the sole source of support.

One person’s response I would be interested to see is that of Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA).  In January 2009 the chair of EPW, which is to produce highway and other portions of the next authorization bill, flatly opposed the multimodal discretionary grants provision in the draft Senate stimulus bill, even as Heminger and other Californians welcomed the idea of a mode-neutral program and projects judged on their merits.  Boxer and others in the transportation leadership of Capitol Hill will decide whether the TIGER approach is just a brief detour from projects as usual.   Pbea

The Next Maritime Administrator

In Federal Government, Leadership on January 27, 2010 at 11:50 pm

David Matsuda –the President’s pick to serve as Maritime Administrator–is ready to serve.

He returned to familiar turf this week when he appeared at his nomination hearing.  He worked for the same committee that will be voting on his nomination.  His work in the Senate had to do with railroads, ports, transit, trucking and aviation.  He worked for a senator whose state’s second largest employment sector is logistics and which is host to the New York Harbor and Delaware River gateways.

Since mid 2009 David Matsuda has been running the Maritime Administration as the top political appointee at the modal agency.  He has the confidence of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood who first knew him as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy.

Importantly for MARAD–and for the marine transportation system–he has knowledge and experience to help shape a new transportation policy for the administration to recommend to Congress.  That transportation policy has to include, for the first time, a national freight policy.  And by rights it should put the marine transportation system squarely in that policy.

David Matsuda’s prepared statement for the hearing was brief and straightforward.  He reminded the committee that the “impacts of our nation’s maritime industry are not limited to coastal states.”

“Items brought in by ship make their way to store shelves and factory lines throughout the nation. Some raw materials we mine, goods we produce, and agricultural products we grow for export leave through our seaports or travel down rivers or across great lakes to distant markets.  In all, 36 states have a maritime port—whether it’s on a river, lake, gulf, or ocean. Merchant mariners live in just about every state in the Union, and midshipmen nominated by you and your colleagues to study at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy can claim home to all but one state. Some states have shipyards or marine manufacturers which can be the largest sources of jobs in an entire community or region.”

He noted acknowledged the challenges.

“Today’s industry is struggling with many tough challenges: a lagging economy, climate change, the threats of invasive species, piracy and other security issues, a greatly expanded Panama Canal opening in 2014, and an aging workforce, to name a few.”

One of the challenges facing the next Administrator is to make something of the marine highway program.  It is just getting started.  With no assurance of a reliable funding stream for the program, MARAD–hopefully with strong support from the Secretary’s office–will have to make the most of its modest resources to develop a credible and creative program that will be central to MARAD’s mission for many years to come.

“I feel my experience working within the federal government, and especially working in the Senate, has allowed me a broad understanding of how these challenges can be approached successfully: by working with all stakeholders in good faith and with transparency in decision-making.”

We wish him well.    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

Vision Ingredients (Part 1)

In Federal Government, Leadership, Surface Transportation Policy on November 28, 2009 at 8:19 pm

Thinking of George H. W. Bush can conger up a few unfortunate (for him), lasting images. For me it’s the former president’s food judgments (pork rinds good/broccoli bad), his unfamiliarity with the price of  milk, and Dana Carvey’s exaggerated but dead-on impersonation.  Then there was, “oh, the vision thing.”  It sounded like he thought it a useless factor in governing–perhaps more so than he may have intended–but it stuck.

As a practical matter civil servants and political appointees often aren’t given the time to engage in “visioning”. Sometimes when it is done it can amount to little more than a facilitated exercise.  But what may seem like a luxury, or a waste, arguably is essential for a new administration and even newly sworn congressional leadership.

At USDOT some part of a vision is in place, though I don’t know how much is the result of planning or predisposition.

The two elements of an Obama transportation vision that I can identify are high speed passenger rail and livable communities.  The first is courtesy of President Obama himself.  In an out-of-the-blue moment earlier this year the White House said the economic stimulus package being written in Congress must include billions to start a high speed rail program.  (It was one of a few Obama “musts” in a measure that was mostly dismissed by Republicans as a “Pelosi” bill.)   The rail piece was the president’s vision, and an inspired one to be sure.

The second quickly became a regularly voiced theme by Secretary Ray LaHood and his policy staff.  It suits an administration that is oriented toward energy conservation, the urban environment and, not to be forgotten, the voting pedestrian/commuter.  Does it qualify as vision?  I think so.  It’s more than a policy view because a livable community objective could transform urban and town landscapes and it entails a broad range of policy solutions.

Meanwhile a more complete administration surface transportation policy is still in the cooker.  Congressional committees are wondering what and when policy recommendations for a successor to SAFETEA-LU will emerge from USDOT headquarters.  Perhaps no sooner than mid 2010.

Vision and policy are not synonymous.  One can have a new vision, and implementing policy, for passenger rail while maintaining a decades-old freight policy.  Somehow that doesn’t sound like this administration.

It’s one thing for the recent Bush administration and Secretary Mary Peters to articulate a scant administration view  about transportation that amounted to little more than less Federal government, more State responsibility, and greater private sector financing and management.  It made for a transportation policy only a Cato could appreciate.

But we might reasonably expect more from Messrs Obama and LaHood given the administration’s expansive environmental and energy view.  Transportation’s role in addressing those issues is significant and goes beyond putting passengers on trains and encouraging transit use and bicycling.

So here’s the question: What is the total vision that will steer administration action and guidance to congress over the next three, maybe seven, years?  Will it be more than passenger rail and livable communities?    Pbea

Ports on the Secretary’s To-Do List

In Federal Government, MTS Policy on November 8, 2009 at 11:49 pm

The DOT Secretary’s blog–Fast Lane–noted this past Thursday that “port managers have a difficult dual mission to fulfill-–providing the critical interface between water and surface transportation, while handling both commercial and military cargo.”  The prior day he met with the National Port Readiness Network, including some port representatives.

Secretary Ray LaHood acknowledged in his blog that that dual mission “is much easier said than done. ”  “And I get that only the commercial side of their mission provides the ports compensation.”  He said “DOT wants to do all we can to help them meet these obligations.”

Back in March when Secretary LaHood addressed the spring meeting of the American Association of Port Authorities he was asked from the floor what the new administration was thinking in the way of a freight policy.  The cabinet member said his department had yet to give it attention, that implementation of the stimulus package was USDOT’s  immediate focus, and toward the end of the year he may convene stakeholders to start to develop a perspective on freight.

It sounds like he is ready to act on that idea.  In recent weeks he indicated to Kurt Nagle of the AAPA that USDOT will call port directors together for purposes that include an examination of freight issues.  The plan is to have a meeting–perhaps in New Orleans–this coming January.

He noted in this blog of November 5th two action items–a “port summit” and “a Presidential initiative to integrate planning” with DHS.

The former appears to be focused on the port authorities–the public agencies with port jurisdiction.  A government to government conversation makes sense.   But will the Secretary at some point also enlist the private sector side of the ports–the terminal and vessel operators–in a confab to examine freight issues?  And will this be the start of a concerted effort in the Secretary’s office to develop an overdue Federal freight policy?

The latter is a reference to a $15M item in the current year budget–also in the Senate version of the DOT appropriations bill.  “This will help develop and modernize the freight infrastructure that links coastal and inland ports to highway and rail networks,” LaHood said in the blog.  We’ll have to wait and see how that  intention will materialize in actual projects.  Earlier this year MARAD folks said that some or all of it may be applied to marine highway initiatives.

We’ll see how these two items on the Secretary’s to-do list develop.  In the mean time it’s good to know that Secretary LaHood wants to listen to the ports and focus some resources on the MTS.   Pbea

The Marine Highway Route to Climate Action

In Green Transportation, Marine Highway, Surface Transportation Policy on October 15, 2009 at 7:26 pm

BlogActionDayCall me silly, but I give benefit of the doubt to John McCain, Barack Obama, Al Gore (yes, him, too) and the slew of scientists who have convinced leaders around the globe that the time for action to address global warming is…yesterday.   (With such heavy stakes I’m betting on the smart guys–people of science.)

Closer to home, I trust people like marine biologist Marisa Guarinello, who on Sunday told me of her recent stint in Antarctica.  She witnessed the consequences of diminishing ice habitat and the effects on native species.

I also trust my gut, paunchy thing that it is.  I never expected in my lifetime to see terra-evolution.  From my early years in grammar school I learned, as we all did, about  the  Ice Age and other such periods that lasted over the course of  tens of thousands  of years.  When I see ongoing evidence of change (the Melting Age?) occurring in my lifetime it’s a bit unnerving.

Want an example?  How about the shrinking of the Arctic?  So much so that studies and early planning are underway for Arctic shipping routes as ice is reduced to being less of an obstacle.  I understand that there is opportunity in them thar high latitude shortcuts, but that opportunity has the look of silver lining an awfully dark cloud.

The Marine Transportation System can do more than take advantage of a disturbing, ecological change to Planet Earth.   It also can contribute to the reversal of GHG factors.

In fact the future of the MTS–the prospect for growth in maritime-centered mobility–is dependent on marine transportation being relevant in the Climate Change Era (CCE).

Our friends in USDOT might agree with that assertion.  They are preparing the administration’s view as to the next surface transportation policy.  Even as the policy is in development clear themes are being voiced by Secretary Ray LaHood and his team.  Sustainability.  Livability.  Mobility.

The Secretary sees the MTS as fitting neatly in that framework of principles.  He said marine transportation, specifically the development of the American Marine Highway (AMH), as transformational for the national transportation system.

Marine transportation is highly efficient.  It moves large volumes of  things using less fuel than  the other surface modes.  It has advantages from a GHG perspective.   However it isn’t a slam dunk for “Green Mode of the Year.”  But with the right investments it can do even better in contributing to our environmental and energy security.  Fuel switching.  Operational adjustments.  New technologies.

Government and the private sector have roles to play here.  Federal policy should aggressively foster both the use and greater advances in marine transportation.  Investments in technology, new equipment and AMH services by the private sector, or its public sponsors, should be rewarded.  Research should be supported.  Transportation policies in this CCE should be unified through the integration of modal policies and some programs.

Like it or not, change is happening.  There are implications for the Marine Transportation System.  Let’s make it work both for future generations and for the industry that supports millions of jobs.   Pbea

A Slice of Pie for Hungry Ports

In Infrastructure, Ports on October 13, 2009 at 11:25 pm

I’m not sure if this is a troubling sign but Sally Fields comes to mind when I think of TIGER grants.

Those are the multi-modal, discretionary grants that were created in the economic stimulus bill Congress approved last February.  The pleased folks at USDOT dubbed the program TIGER–a suitable acronym–and put flesh on the bones. Pleased because this was one of those rare times when Congress was willing to say: “Here, Mr. Secretary, is 1,500,000,000 dollars for you to spend, outside of existing modal grant programs, at your discretion.

There were some rules of course, but none of the earmarked projects Congress is so fond of TIGERpiedesignating to the fullest extent of available funds.

And with a reform-oriented SAFETEA-LU sequel due to be written by Congress it was not lost on USDOT that if the TIGER program were managed well–whatever “well” might mean to congressional overseers–it could be a model for replication.  USDOT may be entrusted to award more competitive grants on the basis of project merit and worth to the country.  Imagine that.  (Indeed, the Senate DOT appropriations bill for FY 2010 includes $1.1 Bn for additional TIGER grants.)

In the months that followed enactment of the $750 Bn stimulus package–some $48 Bn of which was allocated to USDOT for near term implementation–Secretary Ray LaHood told port officials and others involved in the MTS that port project applications would be welcomed for TIGER grants.  He told the D.C. Propeller Club audience in May that the maritime sector has been neglected and TIGER grants were an opportunity.

Well, the ports listened.  Shades of Sally Fields!  When in 1985 she won her second golden statue for her role in Places in the Heart the former “Flying Nun” famously cried, “You really like me!”

The ports took to heart the Secretary’s encouragement. He really wanted them to apply for grants and apply they did.  Ninety-five applications were submitted for port related projects totaling $3.3 Bn.  Certainly the smallest of the modal slices on the pie chart, but not an overwhelming difference when compared to rail.

Toward what end?  We’ll learn in February what projects are approved and how many are for ports.  The TIGER grants and pending legislation to grant MARAD infrastructure improvement authorities are signs that change may be in the wind.  The Feds are becoming more open to assisting ports with more than just channel construction and maintenance.  Certainly MARAD is eager to claim new program areas.  And some of the ports, perhaps an increasing number, are welcoming the help of Uncle Sam…maybe even inside the gate.   Pbea

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