Marine Transportation System

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

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