Marine Transportation System

Archive for September, 2009|Monthly archive page

The MPO Role in AMH

In Marine Highway on September 26, 2009 at 10:34 pm


The Marine Highway effort took a big step forward,maybe three years ago, when former MARAD Administrator Sean Connaughton traveled to Little Rock for the annual meeting of the Association of Metropolitan Planning Organizations.  MPOs are the regional transportation planning entities responsible for developing Transportation Improvement Plans and selecting projects for Federal funding.  They consist of local government and transportation agencies including State DOTs.  The interest that an MPO shows in freight transportation depends on how well ports and other freight stakeholders engage their local MPO.

Connaughton, a former county official in Virginia, understood the role of MPOs and the Federal resources they have to support projects.  He knew also that most MPOs understood little or nothing about short sea shipping or most any form of marine transportation.  If transportation planners were to give consideration to coastal or inland shipping in addressing transportation needs they would first have to know it exists…and is relevant.

When MARAD later issued for comment the interim final rule for the America’s Marine Highway (AMH) program the notice effectively alerted transportation agencies that a new program was to begin.  Input was invited for the naming of marine highway corridors.  The response has brought to light many projects and a level of interest that previously had not been known.  (MARAD is expected to issue final rules for the program later this year and formally solicit project proposals early next year.)  Enter NYMTC.

An effort is underway by planners in the New York Metro region to gauge interest in the budding marine highway program.  NYMTC, the New York City and Long Island MPO, has scheduled a meeting for September 29th.  (See the “downloadable files” on the left menu of NYMTC site and find “America’s Marine Highways” on drop-down list.)   All are welcome to participate and one can view the meeting online.

According to Howie Mann of NYMTC the agency has reached out to neighboring MPOs–an important step because marine highway corridors inevitably extend beyond the limits of one or more MPOs.  Like the 64 Express project on the James River, undertaken by Barbara Nelson of the Richmond Regional Planning District Commission since that Little Rock meeting, these steps by NYMTC will add to public and institutional understanding and should prove useful.

Note:  If you are curious to know more about reginoal transportation planning and the MPO role, here is a worthwhile read about The History of Metropolitan Planning Organizations.   Pbea


Rendell Bets on a Delay

In Infrastructure, Surface Transportation Policy on September 25, 2009 at 7:44 am

Governor Ed Rendell, a leading figure in the call for infrastructure reform and investment in the U.S., said that any surface transportation bill that Congress could pass this year would be a “very mediocre bill in terms of the needs of the country.”

In a story yesterday by Bob Edmonson of the Journal of Commerce the governor acknowledged, “In one sense a delay is hurtful, but in another sense the delay would give us a chance to look at new ideas, and build new concepts, and try to get a bill that will really revolutionize.”  Rendell spoke at a American Road and Transportation Builders Association conference.

The governor apparently assumes that the Senate and Administration will succeed in getting an 18 month extension of  the expiring SAFETEA-LU.  Chairman Jim Oberstar (D-MN) on the House side doesn’t want to put off major revenue and policy decisions that long.

On September 23rd when the House debated, and passed, a three month extension, through December, Steven LaTourette (R-OH) agreed that action is needed now.  His House Republican leadership opted to object to a prospective gas tax hike, which was not even on the table, rather than identify themselves with the need to maintain highway and transit programs.  LaTourette stood in the well–exasperated, looking at his own party members–and said, “I am constantly amazed at how both parties are able to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.”  He foresees his party in the months ahead fighting a major transportation bill in the cause for low taxes.

In a recession the desire to improve the economic environment for employment is genuine and politically vital.  It’s easy to understand the impatience.  Oberstar and others want to move as quickly as possible to produce a 5-year, $450 Bn transportation bill.   Then again, there is that knotty problem of how to pay for it, as noted in this prior posting.

Whatever other thinking may be behind Governor Rendell’s frank remarks to the “road builders” he makes an important point.  On the surface is this one:  Jim Oberstar may be ready to move a bill but the Senate and administration are not.  But Rendell seems to go deeper than that.  Crafting a major bill, with its inherently difficult revenue issues and bearing the weight of expectations that this one must break new policy ground, will take more time.

Rendell is right.  After reaching the pinnacle that is SAFETEA-LU we don’t need another “mediocre” bill.   The hearing record of recent years is loaded with testimony calling on Congress to not repeat past mistakes and, as the governor put it, to produce “a bill that will really revolutionize.”  Freight policy, high-speed rail, transportation policy in a new energy/environment policy framework, performance measures, marine highways, livable communities, and the broader question raised by the Secretary as to how to integrate the MTS more fully into surface transportation policy.  These are just some of the policy challenges.

The Oberstar bill is a clear step in that direction.  And while the Senate committees have been plotting their TEA contributions the administration can’t say the same.  The White House and the Department of Transportation, which remains immersed in implementing the economic stimulus package with its multi-billion dollar new programs,  are nowhere near ready to be a full participant in the crucial dialogue on next generation surface transportation program and policy.  It will take more time.   Pbea

A Million Reasons

In Leadership, Surface Transportation Policy on September 21, 2009 at 12:26 pm


“Funding is the key,” said former DOT Secretary Norman Mineta.  He should know.

Mineta spoke to an estimable eighty invited to UVA’s Miller Center of Public Affairs to discuss how significant reform in surface transportation policy might be achieved.  He told them that funding is the prerequisite for the kind of major investment measure that all agreed is needed.

Noting the particular challenge, Mineta recalled how he  brought to the Bush (43) White House a proposal to add two cents to the Federal fuel tax.  The intent was to elevate road and transit program funding to level closer to actual system need.  The Commander-in-Chief said no.

Pop Quiz:

  1. On what bill did George W. Bush first exercise his power of the veto?  (Softball.)
  2. Aside from a $8 Bn game-changing plan to jump-start high-speed passenger rail, which president ruled out any immediate action on a major transportation infrastructure program because he (that’s a hint) was not inclined toward a tax hike or other revenue measure? (But why just pick on presidents?)
  3. Is there a snowball’s chance in Haiti that Congress will pass the next full-fledged TEA bill anytime soon?

(Answers: SAFETEA-LU, Obama, Not likely.)

It’s not a stretch to suggest that it may take years for official Washington to approve a costly multi-year surface transportation bill.  Certainly one that includes substantial reform  (such as sustainable transportation and livable communities), new attention to freight gateways and corridors, and overall higher levels of capital investment in our declining public works.  Hundreds of billions are needed over and above what is required to maintain what we already have.  And a declining highway trust fund makes even maintaining the status quo a pressing challenge.

Josh Vorhees of Energy & Environment News wrote a good story carried by the NYT.  The conferees at UVA know the timidity of the Electeds when it comes to approving new revenue increments to support this or that.  When it comes to the partisan battlefield there is no distinguishing a user fee from a tax.

Some time ago, when a toll increase was being contemplated by staff of  a public authority, the subject was referred to as “The Banana. ”  The T-word was not uttered in internal discussions–lest others outside the agency get wind of it before the numbers were fully crunched and the rationale fully developed.  “The Banana” was a calculated, albeit humorous, way to manage in the hyper-sensitive political world.

A some point–much sooner than later–the million reasons why a tax payer or system user should not be charged must be faced by our Electeds.  At some point the fact will sink in that America’s competitiveness is declining as other nations  are  using this lousy global recession as reason to engage in major infrastructure improvements.

Mort Downey recounted last week at a freight-related event how over the years Washington has managed to extend or raise the vehicle fuel tax even when the economy was in distress.  Somehow we survived.   Pbea

Will Ports Be Ready? (Part 3)

In Efficiency, Ports on September 17, 2009 at 11:22 pm

Will U.S. ports, especially those on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, be ready to operate in the changing domestic and international commercial environment? With major shifts on the way the ports that adequately prepare will be the ones to maintain and gain market share.  A shift in buying power—where the consumers are—may be the greatest change facing major gateway ports throughout the U.S.

Consumer Demand
The primary end-consumer of manufactured goods is shifting east—Far East.  For U.S. ports, it is going to be as important to be an efficient “export port” in the coming decade as it was to be an efficient “import port” last decade.

Over the last decade a significant shift in national and individual wealth occurred from America and Europe to the Far East and India.  In the next several decades the emerging middle classes in China and India will be the primary global goods and services consumers.  China already has a middle-class of 300 million, approximately the same number as the U.S. total population.

An increasing demand for goods will be driven by two phenomena: population growth and economic convergence.  The world population (currently at 6.8 billion) is expected to reach 7 billion in late 2010 and to reach 8 billion within 20 years, or sooner.  (Much of this growth will be in Asia and Africa, but by 2050 it is projected that India will be the world’s most populous nation.)

Approximately 80 percent of these new individuals will have discretionary incomes nearly equal to their western counterparts because of increasingly convergent economic patterns for most nations.  Meanwhile western-populations will age and increase their savings rates in order to provide for their retirement years.  In short, the demand will be on the other side of the planet.

The Bottom Line
U.S ports planning to participate in the international trade and transportation business will have to be agile, 2-directional (serving both imports and exports), environmentally sound operations, and take advantage of economies of scope and scale to compete in the 21st Century.  These are business considerations that should be included in a port’s strategic business plan to maintain and gain market share.

T. H. Wakeman

Will Ports Be Ready? (Part 2)

In Environment, Ports on September 15, 2009 at 5:14 pm

Will U.S. ports, especially those on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, be ready to operate in the changing domestic and international commercial environment? With major shifts on the way the ports that adequately prepare will be the ones to maintain and gain market share.  The change in environment—at local, national and global levels—will be a constant factor not easily addressed.

Environmental Concerns
From 2002 to 2007 many ports found it necessary to have a proactive environmental policy to get community approval to operate and expand.  Most major ports experienced double digit volume increases that resulted in problems with surrounding communities over increasing road congestion, noxious air emissions, and safety concerns.  In the San Pedro Bay ports communities voiced their anger to local politicians and in short order port projects were put on hold.

With the collapse of global trade, the pressure subsided as the number of containers and trucks decreased.  However, all indications suggest that world trade will rebound and cargo volumes will double by 2040.  Community concerns and political problems will re-emerge as well.  Other environmental issues may also emerge to affect port business practices—consumption of non-renewable resources, bio-hazards, and concerns about species redistribution that may persist even with ballast water regulation.  A proactive policy may again be a necessity for certain major ports if their environmental performance is seen as problematic for their neighbors.

Green house gases (GHG) are probably going to be the biggest environmental game changer for businesses as climate change policy is put in place and businesses calculate the added expense.  The U.S. contributes 20 percent of the world’s emissions from burning fossil fuels; India contributes 4 percent.  Will there be a carbon tax or cap and trade policy established worldwide?  What will be the cost penalty for oceanborne cargo here or worldwide?  How fast will engine room and terminal equipment technology adapt?  Those questions await answers and clarification.

As climate change concerns and political acceptance addressing those concerns increase, the pressures to aggressively address GHG will be enormous.  (That is likely notwithstanding the relative environmental and energy per-ton/mile efficiency of the marine and rail elements of MTS related transportation.)  These issues will have even greater impacts on the cost of ports, particularly if dealt with retroactively.

Next: Consumer demand and the bottom line.

T. H. Wakeman

A Decent Man and Industry Leader

In Leadership on September 14, 2009 at 1:03 pm
Bill DeCota  (source:

Bill DeCota (source:

Bill DeCota was not someone you would have met in the MTS world.  He didn’t know ships, but he appreciated that there could be a role for marine transportation at his facilities.  He didn’t know freight rail, but he knew that rail is an essential component in intermodal transportation.  He may have never set foot on a container terminal, but he understood the importance of efficient goods movement.

Bill DeCota knew airports and aviation.

On September 11th, as his colleagues at the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey were re-living the tragedy of eight years before, Bill passed away at age 51.

For nearly ten years Bill DeCota headed the agency’s Aviation Department.  LaGuardia, Newark, Kennedy, Teterboro, and now Stewart.  He joined the Port Authority in 1982 as a financial analyst and well before his untimely death he had earned the respect of his staff and industry leaders.

Like other highly competent persons Bill could have left public service for greater financial reward in the private sector.  Instead he close to work to improve the country’s busiest and highly complex passenger and freight airport system in the high-pressure, floodlit New York metro region.  The region and his employer were prime beneficiaries of his talent.  Anyone who didn’t fully appreciate that fact when he was alive surely will come understand it in his absence.

He had impressive intellectual capacity, lived his work 24/7, had great integrity, demanded no less of himself as he did  of his staff.  He was a national leader  in the industry.  He probably was without peer in his command of the  statistical and financial minutiae.  He was a man of good humor and enjoyed his own, frequent quips.  And as an added gift Bill was a genuinely good guy.  He was friend and colleague to people, myself included, regardless of rank.  Patty Clark of his staff said of Bill: “He had as much concern for the busboy at his dinner, as he did for his long term friends.  The caring and concern which were the hallmark of his life, he eschewed when directed at himself.”

It is the transportation world’s loss that he is gone.   Pbea

Will Ports Be Ready? (Part 1)

In Infrastructure, Ports on September 13, 2009 at 10:15 pm

Will U.S. ports, especially those on the Atlantic and the Gulf coasts, be ready to operate in the changing domestic and international commercial environment? With major shifts on the way the ports that adequately prepare will be the ones to maintain and gain market share. Cargo flow volumes will shift in a big way.  This is the first of a three-part observation by our new contributor Thomas H. Wakeman III, Eng.Sc.D.

Panama Canal
The one approaching shift that escapes no port’s attention is the Panama Canal.  The Panama Canal Authority is investing $5.3 billion to widen and expand the canal’s capacity to service the current generation of 8000+ TEU container ships.  When the new locks open in 2014, a new era will begin.  It could change global trading patterns just as the initial canal opening did in 1914.

As much as 25 percent of today’s West Coast cargo base could be transferred to East and Gulf Coast ports as global trade picks up again.  There will only be one chance to gain control of the initial surge.  It will be the deepest East and Gulf Coast ports with corresponding intermodal connections and warehousing capacity that will capture this shift in market share.

Economies of Scale/Scope
Achieving economies of scale and scope will determine the mega-players.  It started with increasing ship size first among the bulk carriers and then emerged with the container carriers in the latter part of last century to secure economies of scale.  Because margins are razor thin only ports and their supporting infrastructure systems (whether as import or export corridors) with sufficient capacity and efficiency effectively will compete and perform in the global marketplace among the major “port poles”, forming as collaborative networks in Asia, India, and Europe to achieve economies of scope.

These port poles, which combine the infrastructure and business services of more than one port into a mega-region logistics platform, have the ability to be agile, cost-effective and resilient when shocks occur.  They are seen as reliable routes by shippers – giving them agile and flexible networks.

Time and reliability are the watch words for global business.  As goods flow across the world’s oceans, through our ports, and connect to domestic corridors, they face time delays in route and uncertainty about ultimate delivery schedules because of infrastructure capacity constraints.  Freight must flow seamlessly or there is a time, cost and reliability penalty.

India plans to increase infrastructure spending to 9% of GDP (an estimated $500 billion) by 2014, up from the current 4%, on roads, ports and airports.  In China, according to the Asian Development Bank, the figure is close to 10% GDP for 2008-2009.

The US has been living on its past construction accomplishments.  According to the Congressional Budget Office, between 1984 and 2004, the U.S. capital investments (including federal, state, and local) averaged less than 1.2% GDP.  Our growth of demand and lack of investment was unsustainable.  Without the recession, we would have been overwhelmed by traffic, much less prepared for what is going to be demanded in the next decade.   Our infrastructure systems can not deliver what business is going to require for maintaining global competitiveness without significant investments.

Next: Environmental Concerns

T. H. Wakeman

“All Available Boats”

In New York Harbor on September 10, 2009 at 5:16 pm
Thanks to Carolina Salguero (

Thanks to Carolina Salguero (

“On Friday morning, September 11, 2009, ferries will come from the north, south and west to gather on the Hudson River at the mouth of North Cove. They will pause, bobbing, and all will turn to face the empty eastern sky over the World Financial Center. At 10:29am, they will sound their horns, a mournful chord of remembrance that notes the fall of the second World Trade Center tower.” (from the “Spiritual Sustenance at the Water’s Edge” article in the recent WaterWire newsletter of the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance)

Tomorrow we will remember.

Persons in earshot of the “mournful chord” will be reminded of the masters, pilots, mates, captains, deckhands, and boaters who responded to the call that day: “All available boats.”   They may have heard the Coast Guard call or just knew in their guts what they had to do.

“In response to the emerging need for transportation, boats of all descriptions converged on Manhattan,” said Tricia Wachtendorf, Assistant Professor at the University of Delaware’s Disaster Research Center, in a school publication. “Some acted quite independently. Others sought permission from the Coast Guard, who initially instructed vessels first to stand by, then to position themselves in readiness before issuing its request for all available boats to participate in the evacuation.”

John Snyder of wrote of the response by some of the more familiar New York Harbor vessel names.  “Because of their bow-loading design, NY Waterway’s ferries were pressed into service as waterborne ambulances. The vessels were used to medivac injured firefighters across the Hudson to Colgate. In all, NY Waterway ferries carried about 2,000 injured.”All Available Boats book

All Available Boats: Harbor Voices from 911 is a radio documentary by David Tarnow.   Kimberly Gochberg, a sailing coach at Kings Point, is one of several voices providing their accounts.  An illustrated book on the subject, All Available Boats, edited by Mike Magee, memorialized the maritime element that day.  A gift from my colleagues, the volume is a tangible reminder to page slowly through.

That morning the John J. Harvey, a retired NYPD fireboat went into action.  It is a small photograph but it’s not difficult to see the deck crowded to capacity with people being ferried from Lower Manhattan.  Co-owner Huntley Gill tells that story.  The vessel a metaphor for age mattering little when one can lend a hand.  An interview by Amy Eddings shines a useful light on the unanticipated urban design issue of waterfront infrastructure lacking as basic a detail as a cleat on which to tie a line.

“The mainstream press missed a major story about 9/11–the maritime role.”  Carolina Salguero posted in 2008 a fascinating account on her PortSide Mary Whalen blog.  Salguero, whose life is centered on the working waterfront, is a  professional photographer (her work is highlighted at top) who raced to Lower Manhattan by boat.   “When Debby and I approached the Battery, thousands of citizens were crammed along the seawall. As I left ground zero on the tug Nancy Moran only 2 or 3 hours later, there were none; all evacuated by boat in what was a spontaneous, civilian-initiated operation.”  Salguero’s website is worth a visit.  (Look for “maritime 9/11” and then follow the links to for interviews, images, and video.)

The photographs of that day couldn’t capture the full measure of vessels that responded that day.  But we know who they are. Pbea

Our Turn to Pay the Freight

In Infrastructure, Surface Transportation Policy on September 9, 2009 at 5:21 pm
PBS "Blueprint America" Documentary:  "Keep on Trucking?"

PBS "Blueprint America" Documentary: "Keep on Trucking?"

Blueprint America is the PBS infrastructure series.  The series is one of the best I have seen on the subject, not that there is much competition on TV in this category.  Keep on Trucking? has the virtue of being taped in my Garden State, where men are men and women are truck drivers who train the men.

The segment reported by Miles O’Brien covers our reliance on trucking and the 50+ year old interstate highway model.  He reports on the benefits and limitations of the rail freight system.  He covers how trucking and rail compete and cooperate (“the term of art is intermodal”).  He introduces community concerns via New Jersey’s Ironbound, which is adjacent to the Newark container terminals.  And O’Brien overlays the  fact that Congress will have to replace SAFETEA-LU and face the political conundrum of taxes, with Jim Oberstar’s (D-MN) foot on the House accelerator.

Part of the value of this particular “…Trucking?” segment, as one individual awkwardly said, is the need “to look at the network of this nation as a whole” and “how these two modes can be interfaced in the most efficient way”.   “A freight relay if you will,” Miles O’Brien added, “… trains and trucks each doing the part of the job they do most economically, then passing the baton.”

Of course that topic deserves a 24-minute segment of its own…but not one limited only to two surface modes.

Predictably marine transportation was not mentioned.  Considering the key points made in the piece the marine highway should have been included in the “network of this nation.”  The water mode applies to the ideas of intermodal operation, efficiency, congestion mitigation, and the need to think outside the 1950s highway model.  As one voice noted, “it’s about retooling the freight infrastructure so American business can compete in the global marketplace.”  Not about maintaining the primacy of road and rail, one might add.

Miles O’Brien alluded to the fact that arriving at a new policy will not be easy.  “There is no love lost in the fight over infrastructure dollars.”  Bill Graves of the American Trucking Association asserted that the public shouldn’t be “deluded” that rail is “the answer”…the Association of American Railroads‘ ad campaign notwithstanding.

O’Brien expressed no particular confidence that Congress will adopt a new model.  He spoke of an American consumer trait, taking things for granted–“plentiful, high quality goods, delivered fast and cheap”–and made possible seemingly “like magic.”  Not willing to make it easy on voter or legislator, he said “it is actually about planning ahead and making big investments.”  The generation that built the interstate system did it.  “Now it may be our turn to pay the freight.”   Pbea

Rail Shows the Way to the Water

In MTS Policy on September 3, 2009 at 8:27 am

Closing image from a CSX commercial

This is a compelling image but not necessarily in the way intended by the folks at CSX.

For good reason I’ve heard many people credit CSX for the quality of its television commercials.  Norfolk Southern and the collective Class I industry also have put up very effective ads that have been running for a few years.   The message is exceedingly simple.  On a ton-for-ton basis rail is a fuel efficient and low carbon-footprint way to move lots of freight now traveling on the highways.

The ads are shown repeatedly in this D.C. market because this is where policy makers and influencers are.   The railroads want Congress to approve a targeted 25%  tax credit for their infrastructure investments.  They also know that new climate and energy policies could affect their bottom line.   So the industry is investing  millions to instill a favorable public image.  It is working.  Green groups are lobbying for more freight trains and fewer trucks.

As an admirer of the ad campaign I use this image in presentations about the need for marine highway policy.  The ad accomplishes two things for those of us who think that the even greater efficiency of marine transportation deserves equal attention.

First, it graphically reveals the availability of waterside capacity for the surface transportation system.  It is hidden capacity, metaphorically speaking, when early in the commercial the focus is on containers lifted from the congested roadway to the nearby train.  Then our last view is of a waterway so uncongested as to be empty of vessels.

Second, it serves as a challenge to the maritime industry, which  can top the railroad claims about fuel efficiency.   The tug and tow companies have undertaken a modest general ad campaign to carry that message.  However that AWO effort is the only one.  The present and future marine highway–including the capacity of ships to carry trucks themselves–remains a hidden asset because the larger industry isn’t telling the story.

There is no comparing the resources of the rail and barge industries.  So don’t look anytime soon for a comparable televised promotional effort by vessel operators.  Nor have I seen signs that the broader maritime sector is ready to pool resources to promote the marine highway to Washington.

If the public and the policy makers are to learn about the advantages of marine transportation and the potential for addressing some of the nation’s growing transportation challenges it will happen when the maritime sector comes together to carry that message.   The railroads can’t be counted on to place more subliminal maritime messages on TV.  Pbea