Marine Transportation System

Archive for August, 2009|Monthly archive page

Special Delivery 400 Years Later

In History on August 30, 2009 at 9:24 pm
The FLINTERDUIN and friends sailing from the Netherlands to New York Harbor.

The FLINTERDUIN and friends sailing from the Netherlands to New York Harbor.

The Dutch are at it again.  Sailing into New York Harbor to navigate the Hudson…like Henry did.  And no, the ship in the shot isn’t a freighter of a new multi-masted design.   Look closer.  The FLINTERDUIN is delivering to 20 vessels any day now to the mouth of the Hudson River as part of the quadricentennial celebration of Hudson’s exploration of that great river.   Look to The Old Salt Blog, Rick Spilman’s blog, for more information and as well as Sea History.   The Dutch sails will be a great sight to see.   Another source of information on the celebration is the 400th commission’s website. Pbea


New York Harbor High

In Education on August 24, 2009 at 12:29 pm

A number of years ago a colleague at The Port Authority of New York & New Jersey came up with the idea of a board game for area schools.  It would be used to teach kids that one the world’s great seaports was  a short distance away.   Few people in the region understood that the Port was a major economic generator for the two States.  Where Wall Street, Broadway, The Village, the Jersey Shore, and The Sopranos were well known economic generators we found ourselves envying other, smaller ports that were valued, centers of hometown interest.

So staff in the port department developed the board game and produced boxed versions as one element of a public relations effort.   Many hours went into designing the game board to serve its education purposes.  To  the credit of those who worked on it the board didn’t look like one of the countless Monopoly knock-offs. Years later a sample of the game board is one of several keepsakes in my office.  Those game boxes probably share a similar, perhaps inevitable, dusty fate in teacher closets.  Thankfully the imperative to educate kids about their port didn’t end there.

The New York Harbor High School has a greater chance of producing a population of kids who will better understand the natural harbor and the commerce taking place there.  This publicly supported school and its roughly 400 students are moving into a new facility on Governors Island, which is as great a front porch as any from which to soak in the benefits of a harbor.   The kids will benefit by a curriculum described by the NYC Department of Education as including “Marine Technology, Marine Science, Environmental Policy, Maritime Culture and History, Computer Aided Design (CAD), Swimming, Senior Internships at maritime and water-related businesses throughout the New York City area” and more.  Teach your children well.  Pbea

The Grass is Greener – Pt.1

In Federal Government on August 19, 2009 at 11:23 pm

Envy is a perfectly serviceable starting point for developing national transportation policy.  Our new high-speed rail program is an apt example.  It’s a Euro-inspired, greenish gleam in a candidate’s eye made billion-dollar real by our new president and the stimulus package.  While we wait for our first bullet-ride to Disney World or Albany let’s consider what the national transportation policies of other countries are accomplishing. We will start with our friends to the north who want Canada to be the continent’s gateway.   To Memphis.

Canada Gateways

The Canada’s Gateways program is impressive.  Watching a visiting transportation official give a presentation on it is like listening to a nice kid tell of his elegant plan to steal your lunch.  As he speaks it sinks in that you will go hungry that day; you slowly grasp your trumpet case to make sure he doesn’t walk away with it also.  The adult response is to admire the strategic thinking and implementation…while watching one’s lunch walk away.

The Asia-Pacific Gateway and Corridor Initiative is especially impressive. Short Pacific crossings by Asian cargo to new and expanded ports.  Then double stacked boxes onto improved CN and CP freight lines that run down to the American Midwest and Mississippi corridor.  Public and private money.  Public and private roles.  One national strategy.

And here’s something to make you reach for the pink stuff:  the still young Port of Prince Rupert just posted a 124% increase in containers (1st half 2009 over 1st half 2008) in one of the worst global economies ever.   That it only handled under 100,000 TEUs in these 6 months is of little consolation to US Pacific ports who face an efficient rail corridor to the north and a new canal corridor to open in Panama.

Freight stakeholders in the U.S. are pressing decision makers in Washington and gateway states to adopt favorable gateways and corridors policies to address national goods movement needs on all coasts.  Lucky for them inspiration is just a mouse click away in the federal role discussion on the “Canada’s Gateways” website.

“Coherent action requires a systems-based approach, and real partnerships with provincial governments and the private sector. Success will depend upon how well the key players — public and private — coalesce around a coherent vision. A key factor in the successful development of the Asia-Pacific Gateway and Corridor Initiative was the extent to which a stakeholder- driven consensus had taken shape over a number of years.  ….  Actions should complement current market-oriented transportation policies, with governments creating a positive climate for private investment in gateway infrastructure, while safeguarding the public interest.”


Walking the Dock and Talking the Talk

In Federal Government on August 16, 2009 at 9:19 pm

CMTS group

This week Federal agency folks caught the bus to Baltimore to see a port.   It was organized by Helen Brohl and staff of  the Committee on the Marine Transportation System (CMTS) and facilitated by Frank Hamons and colleagues of the Maryland Port Administration.  The civil servants from NTSB, ITA, OMB, MARAD, NOAA, USACE, USCG, EPA and  perhaps other offices and agencies left Washington to see elments of the MTS first hand.

Terminal operations, a NOAA survey vessel, a Ready Reserve Force ship, an intermodal yard, and a tugboat tour of the cargo and quiche sides of the waterfront.   They met with public and private sector people who keep the working port working.

From time to time one reads complaints about taxpayer money spent on public employee field trips and conference-going…as if it’s always a pleasure jaunt and never of professional value.  I’m sure that this same-day hop, just an hour up the parkway, will spark no such carping.  But that’s beside the point.  It’s a fact that trips like this one  to  the Maryland port instill more understanding than does the reading of a report.  Even one with lots of pictures.   When one is in the field the senses absorb.  The mind muses.   The discussion flows.

Washington is paying much more attention than ever to ports, shipping, and our system of logistics.   EPA regulates ballast water.   The Corps maintains channels.  TSA checks dock worker backgrounds.  NOAA decides when the dredges can work.  OSHA sets new container lift standards.   The Senate ratifies standards to lower ship emissions.  CBP scans cargo for radiation.   OMB reviews regs and budgets.  Fees are collected and new fee proposals abound.

Taking one day to take in the context for all of the above is a day and money well spent.  Kudos to CMTS and the folks in the picture.   Pbea

A Tale of Two Conditions

In Infrastructure on August 10, 2009 at 10:38 pm

Pulaski Skyway

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,

it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness,

it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity,

it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness,

it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair,

we had everything before us, we had nothing before us…

I.  Investing for the future….

Chairman John Olver (D-MA) of the House transportation appropriations subcommittee on July 23rd during the DOT FY 2010 funding debate, extolling the $4,000,000,000 contained in the bill for high speed and passenger rail: ” …the high speed rail program for combined high-speed rand intercity passenger rail …is the most imporant transportation initiative since the Eisenhower Interstate Highway System, the National Defense Highway System of 50 years ago…”

II.  Disinvesting in the present…

Caption: “FALLING APART – Replacing the Pulaski Skyway in North Jersey, which is in dangerous disrepair, would cost an estimated $1.2 billion.”   “A June study by the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials ranked road conditions in New York, Connecticut and New Jersey 43rd, 44th and 50th, respectively, among the states.” … David Kocieniewski, NYTimes, July 24

PORTS: Real-Time Data in Action

In Federal Government on August 9, 2009 at 5:35 pm

Want to see a government program at work?  Want some evidence you’re getting your money’s worth from your government?  Does catastrophe avoidance count?

NOAA’s Physical Oceanographic Real-Time System–or PORTS–is one of the success stories that 99.9 percent of citizens don’t hear about.   It’s a small piece of the National Ocean Service navigation services program (coastal surveying, charts, etc.).   The 18 or so PORTS installations in place so far provide commercial and government mariners, in addition to state coastal agencies and academicians, real-time tide and current data.  This is vital information, of course, but the shift from the traditional printed tide tables to accurate information from in-place sensors enables a great leap in navigation safety and  resource knowledge.  Where PORTS sensors are installed the mariner can have greater confidence in the channel ahead.  PORTS also enables crews to make air draft calculations to determine if conditions are favorable  to clear the underside of a bridge.  Whether it’s the USS New York approaching Huey P. Long Bridge or a containership facing the Bayonne Bridge on its way to Port Elizabeth  that’s a big dollar calculation.

NOS pulled together a successful pilot project in Tampa.  Among other things the technology was a means to predict oil spill behavior–a big deal in deciding spill response action.  But PORTS was getting scant or no attention in the President’s annual budget until a port/industry group knocked on the door of  the Deputy Secretary of Commerce.  They told him there was a gem buried deep in the department, starving for money and capable of saving hundreds of millions in marine accidents.

Subsequent budgets have included the bare $3mn needed to keep the system operating at HQ.  With some effort and contributions by port stakeholders, new locations slowly were connected to the system.  It wasn’t until Katrina and Rita had their way with the Gulf Coast that some Senators understood the predictive value of PORTS for a vulnerable coastline.  First realization, then a burst of funding for 4 new Gulf installations.

PORTS is a national program that remains underfunded.   Sure, there are a dozen or so port locations added since the early pilots.  But sensor installations are not uniformly the responsibility of NOAA and annual O&M funding can resemble a game of chicken when there is no firm local arrangement for funds.

This is a proven technology and system.  But without a clear Federal commitment to complete and maintain installations around the country it remains that gem lacking adequate support from the Commerce Department and Congress.

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.