Marine Transportation System

Posts Tagged ‘TIGER grants’

“What’s Taking So Long?”

In Marine Highway, Surface Transportation Policy on January 31, 2012 at 12:57 am

I filed a version of this with the good folks at the Connecticut Maritime Coalition whose Deep Water Port notes newsletter carries my perspectives from Washington…

A few years back the trade press started asking from their columns and story headlines why it was taking so long for marine highway progress—on the water and in government.  To some extent the questions “why” and “when” reflected skepticism and an understandable response to some of the slam-dunk rhetoric that advocates used in the first years of the last decade. The advocates’ logic was simple: Roads are congested; water is not. New highways are expensive; water is free.

Of course, it’s not that simple. (Just as the argument that Jones Act = No Marine Highway is too pat a dismissal.)

Even long-time marine highway supporter Clay Cook asked impatiently—and not without cause—in last year’s May/June Maritime Executive whether USDOT marine highway program efforts were “dead in the water?”

What is taking so long?

On the business side it doesn’t help that the economy went into the tank.  Cargo and freight volumes dropped. Capital became scarce. People and companies ducked into secure holes, stopped spending and started stuffing the mattress. Then there was the rapid rise of diesel prices only to drop just as marine efficiencies started to look attractive.

But that hardly explains it all. Modal shifts don’t happen on a dime. Yes, trucking has its challenges but driver shortages and HOS regs alone don’t steer companies to the water. Besides, intermodal rail has been doing very well and can be expected to be even more competitive in offering services to trucking.

One thing is simple: marine highway service has to make sense in economic and logistics terms to the folks who control the cargo.  Some truckers and shippers have said in public forums how water transport does make sense for their businesses. They even qualify as MH advocates. Their numbers can and will grow but more needs to be done to make the prospect for marine highway service more real and the information more available.

A few more operations on the water could make a difference. The long awaited M-580 “Green Trade Corridor” COB service between Stockton and Oakland will be up and running in a couple months. On the government side of things we also will see some steps that could make a difference.

  • In early February House Ways & Means will hold a hearing on maritime tax issues including a Harbor Maintenance Tax exemption for domestic moves of non-bulk cargo and the tonnage tax, which presently can frustrate the start of marine highway services. The chair of the subcommittee, Pat Tiberi (R-OH), is also sponsor of the exemption bill, HR 1533.
  • Related to that is the pending House Surface Transportation bill that may carry the HMT exemption legislation in a first ever “maritime title” in a surface transportation authorization bill.
  • The Navy/MARAD “dual use” project should get interesting in the coming months. Herbert Engineering’s October 28th report for MARAD, coordinated with market and operation studies, is a guide to vessel designs that could work for the commercial and, when needed, national defense markets. The strategy to replace the tired RRF with new, commercially viable ships is hinged on MH development taking off.  New incentives to help marine highway services to capitalize and get off the ground may be part of a dual use package considered within the Administration.
  • The M-580 project benefited by Federal capital grant money as have some other MH related projects.  Don’t expect marine highway program grants to be issued this or next year but USDOT is announcing a 4th round of TIGER grants (Notice of Funding Availability to be published January 31, 2012.)  Watch for MH related proposals.
  • Also, let’s not forget that the MARAD funded market/business plan studies for M-5, M-55 and M-95 corridors are to be released in the next few months.

None of the above presently qualifies as full fledged game changers but the potential is there. There is more to come on the marine highway story in 2012.  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

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

Good Things to Hear — Pt. 1

In Intermodal, Leadership, Surface Transportation Policy on April 22, 2010 at 11:20 am

This from Environment & Energy Daily reporter Josh Vorhees, his March 25, 2010 story shortened here:

A widely popular transportation program created by last year’s stimulus package could see new life in the next multiyear highway bill.

Senate Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said yesterday that she wants to include a provision similar to the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER, program in the bill her panel is drafting.

The $1.5 billion grant program for innovative, long-term work is aimed at funding multimodal projects that have traditionally been difficult to fund through existing federal programs.

Boxer asked DOT officials for help in drafting the TIGER language that would be part of her highway legislation.

DOT Deputy Secretary John Porcari said his agency would be willing to work with the EPW Committee and called the TIGER program key to the administration’s transportation goals, specifically efforts to shift more freight off the nation’s roads to increase mobility, and combat congestion and the fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions that accompany it.

“I think the TIGER grants point the way to the future in intermodal transportation,” Porcari said.

I wasn’t at the hearing at which the exchange took place but on the basis of this story I hear what sounds like a change of heart.   Perhaps a change of heart that took place quite some time ago but it’s one that is worth noting nonetheless.

In early 2009 when the economic stimulus package was taking form Barbra Boxer spoke to attendees of a freight stakeholder gathering.  In strong terms Boxer rejected what was the $5.5B proposal of her colleague, Patty Murray, chair of the transportation appropriations subcommittee.  (Murray’s multi-modal discretionary grant proposal eventually was enacted at a $1.5B level and later dubbed TIGER grants by Secretary Ray LaHood.)

Barbara Boxer explanation included this: Murray’s discretionary grant proposal “takes Congress out” of the decision making.  Not to worry, she elaborated, her planned surface transportation bill–MAP 21–would take care of large infrastructure projects through a projects of national and regional significance approach, much as contained in SAFETEA-LU.

Barbara Boxer’s response was disappointing to reform minded freight folk in the audience but not especially surprising.  As chair of the Environment & Public Works Committee she would both write the next surface transportation bill and have great say over what projects to include in it.

So, here’s to Barbara Boxer for seeing the value in the TIGER experience and, apparently, trusting USDOT leadership to responsibly apply legislative and rulemaking parameters in the selection of projects.   Here’s to any other legislators who had misgivings about giving the Administration the “discretion” but now see how it can work.

Perhaps Chairman Boxer also takes comfort in noting that some  of the 51 selected projects in the first round are in districts and states of key transportation players in Congress.   And that’s okay.  We hardly expect grant selections to be done in antiseptic rooms totally devoid of political considerations.   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

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

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

Report on Freight Funding Policy

In Federal Government, Infrastructure on September 2, 2009 at 4:50 pm

The TRB has a new report that is worth a look:  Funding Options for Freight Transportation Projects. The study committee was charged with examining the rationale for public investment, evaluating financing strategies for “freight transportation projects of national significance,” assessing the ability to use criteria  in project selection,  and evaluating and comparing “generic financing options…based upon the greatest net benefit and least cost per public dollar invested.”  Here is a summary of the broad categories of recommendations along with a sampling of specifics:

  • Federal freight infrastructure assistance programs should adhere to certain guidelines. Project earmarking “weakens the effectiveness” of programs; any program should be structured to address freight projects on a case-by-case basis and be “flexible to address diverse assistance needs.”
  • Create a new discretionary assistance program to support freight projects, starting with a “test of the need for and value of a responsible and flexible federal program…” The “test” would be $1.8bn over 4-6 years and an independent evaluation to determine the program’s worth.  Note: the program outlined in the report is in many ways similar to the multimodal “TIGER” grants USDOT was charged with administering in the economic stimulus bill enacted last February.  Applications are due Sep15 and selected projects announced in Feb.
  • Make credit assistance more accessible and attractive to freight projects that merit Federal support. Includes revisions to TIFIA; encourage private sector participation by changing tax laws to be “neutral with respect to private versus public management” and finance “the kinds of facilities that commonly are built by the public sector.”
  • Reduce barriers to the development of local and facility-specific revenue sources to pay for freight infrastructure capital costs and provide incentives to encourage use of such sources. Enable port authorities to impose cargo charges “for purposes of  providing revenue for construction and operation of port facilities and access routes…”; reduce barriers to foreign ownership, operation and investment in the transportation industry, “particularly maritime and aviation…”
  • Expand the capability for freight system planning, project evaluation and data collection. Establish a “discrete…home for the functions of project evaluation, performance monitoring and technical assistance to state and local governments;”  develop a “continuing, comprehensive, and systematic program to monitory performance of the national freight transportation system…”

Bill Sez “Nah” to Funding Ports/Freight with NII

In Federal Government on August 4, 2009 at 11:29 pm

Interesting.  When in February Congress sent the huge economic recovery package a.k.a. ARRA, to the White House for signature many folks were pleased that it contained a new $1.5bn multimodal discretionary grant program for the  Transportation Secretary to allocate.  House and Senate appropriators are not known for giving department chiefs  large sums  of money to spend on this or that.  Nor has Congress been in the habit of allowing the Office of the Secretary (OST) the discretion to grant funds outside the tightly prescribed modal grant programs and, for that matter, for projects not already earmarked.  So, when the authority to spend $1.5bn was sent to Secretary Ray LaHood  observers knew much was at stake.  Might this open the door to additional multimodal appropriations or to a new program that would be included in the eventual successor to SAFETEA-LU?

Just a few months later we have a partial answer.  Senate Appropriators included in the FY 2010 DOT spending bill (HR 3288) yet another, but not identical, multimodal discretionary grant program.  This time it is $1.1bn for National Infrastructure Investments (NII).  It seems to resemble the $1.5bn pot that Secretary LaHood has dubbed TIGER grants–applications for which are due at USDOT September 15th.  The Senate committee summary indicates the grants are “to support significant transportation projects in a wide variety of modes, including highways and bridges, public transportation, passenger and freight railroads, and port infrastructure.”   But according to Jeff Davis of the very reliable Transportation Weekly the intent is not to support certain port and freight related projects that are outside of the Title 23 (highways, etc) and Title 49 (transit) eligible project categories.  Jeff says it does not include this TIGER grant language from the stimulus bill that opened the door to “port infrastructure investments, including projects that connect ports to other modes of transportation and improve the efficiency of freight movement.

Wading in more deeply…here is where it is a bit confusing.  Title 23 eligible projects do include some freight related projects such as “intermodal transfer” and “public freight rail” facilities. As for ports  Title 23  even includes (but limit  eligibility to) certain projects within a port terminal’s gate that facilitate the “direct intermodal interchange, transfer and access” in and out of the port.  So how does that differ from the underlined above?   Maybe the answer is somewhere in this supplemental description of the TIGER grant program that would invite, for example, vessel projects that otherwise meet TIGER grant criteria.

So, why NII and not TIGER II?  Could this represent some disapproval of  the Secretary’s recent encouraging words to the effect that TIGER grants enable a change in policy that to date has offered port/maritime related infrastructure little or no Federal program assistance?  Let’s hope not.  More to learn.

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