Marine Transportation System

Archive for June, 2009|Monthly archive page

Spending Billions…And More To Come

In Uncategorized on June 30, 2009 at 1:20 pm

In February House Transportation Chair Jim Oberstar (D-MN) pledged periodic progress reports on the spending of ARRA, a.k.a. economic stimulus, appropriations for transportation projects.  Transportation related appropriations in the $750 billion stimulus package totalled $48.1 billion.  On June 25, 2009 subcommittee Peter DeFazio (D-OR) chaired the oversight hearing as to how well USDOT and the grant recipients have managed the transportation pot 120-days since enactment of ARRA.  As of June 15, USDOT reported that $47.5 billion was “announced” and $17.5 billion has been obligated.  Progress has been made on implementing the highly anticipated multimodal TIGER discretionary grants that is a new program managed in the Secretary’s office.  The $1.5 billion in grants will be awarded by next February; applications are due in September.  The link takes you to the taped hearing.

Spending Billions…And More To Come

In Uncategorized on June 27, 2009 at 2:16 pm

What does the Maritime Administration know about highway and mobility issues?  Should MARAD or some of the non-modal administrations at USDOT be given a vote on “intermodal” projects as the new Surface Transportation Amendments Act (STAA) directs? Both fair questions.   And the answers are (drum roll please): 1) More than you think they know, and 2) maybe it’s about time. ~  That part of the bill sets up a high ranking intermodal post and a program mechanism for judging projects for funding.  The purpose is to give the Secretary the input of the other parts of the department when making a decision on an intermodal project even when an agency might have less expertise in, say, an airport connector to an urban transit system.  However, in doing so it may start to dismantle…or at least lower…the modal silos and their sense that “what’s mine is mine and I don’t much care about yours."  And when those walls are lowered–or start to include windows and doors–it can foster an "ours” sense of fitting pieces together as well as an enhanced professional capacity in all areas of the department.  ~  As it happens, it’s the port maritime sector that may have the stronger sense of intermodalism and belief in the notion of seamless connections between all modes.  Take a look at a modern marine terminal today (the NY Container Terminal is our visual aid) and see how they are all about bringing ships to the rails and roads and the closer the better.  They are about moving cargo with increasing efficiency and reliability and getting it to and from the distribution centers.  The ports are about intermodalism.  So while the Maritime Administration does not have a history of managing large grant programs like their larger sister silos it has spent time giving attention to ports where the connections are made…and where they may be lacking.  Knowing that and then doing something about it is good for the system. – Pbea

In Uncategorized on June 26, 2009 at 2:16 pm

Chair Oberstar’s surface transportation bill….otherwise known as “Skipping the LU”

Caution: Slow Down MOVEMENT

In Uncategorized on June 25, 2009 at 2:16 pm

Rep. Laura Richardson (D-CA) apparently returned to Congress in January convinced she had a basically sound idea when the very new congresswoman from Long Beach introduced a bill last year to pay for port-related goods movement infrastructure projects with a $20/TEU container tax.   Of the revenue, 90% would go to freight related projects mostly within 40 miles of port, 7% would be allocated to projects mitigating environmental “damage,” and 3% would support homeland security projects.  When she introduced HR 2355–the MOVEMENT Act–in May 2009 she did so with some tweaks.  Most significantly is a switch of the revenue mechanism from a container tax to existing Harbor Maintenance Tax and with a leap from its current 0.125% of cargo value to 0.4375%.  The 0.3125% increase would be dedicated to this new purpose.  The basic intent of the bill to provide resources for gateway related infrastructure is a good one but venturing into HMT territory is a descent into troubled waters.  By all indications the U.S. port sector and the shippers who would pay the tax think the bill is flawed, some think it seriously so.  Then there is the risk of triggering a complaint to the WTO by U.S. trading partners.  Meanwhile advocates of a fix to the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund see only complications with the proposed tampernig of a Federal charge that today is not fully utilized for the unmet demands of port navigation infrastructure.  In its current form, the bill is unlikely to garner support to let it move. – Pbea

Caution: Slow Down MOVEMENT

Freight Stakeholders Settled on Their Platform

In Uncategorized on June 24, 2009 at 4:02 am

The Freight Stakeholders Coalition “believes that the next surface transportation autohrization bill must maintain a strong federal role and provide for the creation of a national freight program."  With that as their starting point the coalition hammered out 10 planks in their platform, skipping the issues of fees and whether there should be a freight trust fund.  It’s a pretty good consensus document for a rather broad based group representing twenty public and private sector associations, coalitions and industry groups, one of which is a client.  – Pbea

Freight Stakeholders Settled on Their Platform

Adam Smith on the Cost of Freight Mobility

In Uncategorized on June 23, 2009 at 2:41 am

Adam Smith–no, different guy–reintroduced his proposal for a charge on the cost of moving freight in the U.S.  The Democrat congressman, who can see the Port of Tacoma from his home, would raise revenue from the equivalent of a 1 percent tax on ground transportation moves beyond 50 miles.  Like competing fee schemes introduced by other Members the receipts in Smith’s bill would go toward making freight related infrastructure improvements.  None of the three bills tossed in so far are palatable to the freight community but some see Smith’s as being a bit more reasoned. – Pbea

Adam Smith on the Cost of Freight Mobility

Proposed: Short Sea Transportation Grants

In Uncategorized on June 22, 2009 at 9:38 pm

Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) introduced S. 1308, which includes a section that would fill a gap in the still new Short Sea Transportation program (see the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, Public Law 110-140).  The Maritime Administration is reviewing comments filed in response to the interim final regulations for the program through which the DOT Secretary will designate marine highway corridors and select projects.  The gap is a funding provision to provide tangible financial support for marine highway projects that eventually are selected as worthy of Federal endorsement.  See section twelve in the bill, which was introduced a few days ago.  Lautenberg chairs the subcommittee of jurisdiction. – Pbea

Proposed: Short Sea Transportation Grants

In Uncategorized on June 21, 2009 at 4:01 am

…Oberstar told BNA that the White House’s plan is “terribly detrimental” and “irresponsible.” Oberstar said… [he] did not expect [House] leadership to try to oppose his ambitious agenda. (Source: BNA)

This is strong rhetoric aimed at the White House.  The respective stances of the Administration and the House transporation chairman are not surprising, but these words do have a sharpness that if anything reminds us that the prerogatives of institutions and the priority agendas of leaders don’t take a back seat to party allegiance.  For quite some time Oberstar has aimed to put his stamp on a major restructuring of the failing surface transportation policy.  Indeed he and the White House likely agree to a great extent on major elements of a new policy.  But the White House calculus in calling for an 18 month delay on the issue–thus postponing a politically taxing tax debate–appears to have little to do with the imperative to solve significant policy and program problems (although one can see the benefit of allowing certain policy discussions to ripen a bit more).  The proposed postponement has everything to do with everything else that is on the White House agenda.  ~   Let’s acknowledge that transportation just doesn’t rise anywhere near the top of the tall stack of do-now issues in the Oval Office.  Furthermore I’m not sure the trillions in the economic recovery package are an indicator of a president’s strong interest in transportation.  It was a means to pump money into the economy and create jobs.  As it happened, it also gave him an opportunity to put a personal imprint on transportation through his initiative on hi-speed rail.    ~    It’s terrific that he is pressing to upgrade and increase passenger rail service in the US.  But if that and “livable communities”–also a very important objective–end up being the highlights of the president’s term as it regards transportation initiatives then the search may continue for a successor to Eisenhower.  But let’s not abandon hope just yet. –  Pbea

In Uncategorized on June 19, 2009 at 4:32 pm

First out of the gate: A detailed description of the planned House surface transportation bill to “transform Federal surface transportation from an amalgamation of prescriptive programs to a performance-based framework”.  The bill text and committee action will come in the next week(s).

To Reform, Perchance to Tax (Aye, There’s the Rub)

In Uncategorized on June 18, 2009 at 2:03 pm

The unveiling of T&I Chairman Jim Oberstar’s [TEA] bill had competition for ink.  Former House colleague and DOT Secretary Ray LaHood yesterday proposed that instead of tackling the full $450B authorization bill Congress should:

Extend SAFETEA-LU for 18 months | Adopt some reforms  |  Hold off raising the gas tax.

There is political wisdom in the Administration’s position.  The failing Highway Trust Fund notwithstanding it’s not a propitious time to raise taxes.  Besides Congress already faces a daunting agenda, pressed by the White House to tackle healthcare, finance sector reform, economic recovery, and climate change first.  LaHood’s stance was endorsed yesterday by Senate EPW Chair Barbara Boxer, whose committee wasn’t going to produce its version any time soon anyway.  But Oberstar is consistent and persistent.  He has been building toward this time and is raring to go.  As far as he is concerned Congress should get it done in time for SAFETEA-LU’s expiration (Sept30) and he will get his bill out this summer.  And, not coincidentally, he will plant the first stake as to new policy in this era that some hope will become the Transportation Reformation.  (It will take at least ninety-five theses to get us back to ISTEA.) – Pbea

To Reform, Perchance to Tax (Aye, There’s the Rub)