Marine Transportation System

The Opportunity in Obstacles

In Marine Highway on January 14, 2010 at 1:47 am

Jim Kruse and colleagues at the Texas Transportation Institute (TTI)  completed a study that identifies obstacles to marine highway development.  It’s a good report.  At least I can say that the presentation I saw last evening outlined a lot of useful information.  The report itself is not yet available.

I can’t wait to read about the failed domestic shipping services that the TTI team examined.  (They looked at successes, too.)

Clearly there are obstacles.  There are the perceptions.  The operational issues.  The insufficient demand, particularly during tough economic times.   The potential customer expectations…assuming you can him to the point of talking about expectations.

There are the governmental hindrances.  The ingrained logistical practices.   The costs of multiple handling  of cargo.   The scarcity of financing for start-ups.

But wait!  There is good news.  Folks don’t see the Jones Act as much of a problem.  (Seriously, that’s in the report.)

“North American Marine Highway Operations” is a useful study, commissioned by TRB–the Transportation Research Board of The National Academies–as part of the federally funded National Cooperative Freight Research Program.  And it appears that more will be done on this subject.

Are we surprised there are many of these obstacles?  No.  A number of them have been well known.  Prime Example: the Harbor Maintenance Tax as applied to non-bulk cargo clearly needs to be addressed.

Can we learn from this study.  Yes, indeed.

Truth is, we have a lot to learn.  A lot to address.

At the TRB Annual Meeting (as if thousands of people can “meet”) some other things caught my attention.

  • In the foreseeable future trucking will no longer be at a disadvantage when compared to marine transportation emissions on a ton-mile basis.
  • When this decade the U.S. implements its self imposed Emission Control Area (ECA or “ee-ka”) limiting emissions within two hundred miles of the coastline vessels will have to adopt use of cleaner fuels, which will put vessels at a complete economic disadvantage vis a vis trucking.

Accepting these at face value, marine highway advocates also will have to address some fact of life environmental obstacles.  But then we knew that, too.

The I-95 Corridor Coalition long term “vision” for the 16-state members see marine corridor services as part of the multi-mode capacity solution to the Atlantic states’ growing system problem.

Marine highway services are operating in the U.S. now.  Ten years hence marine highways will be more a part of the national transportation system.  How much of a part of the system will depend on how well government and industry transition marine transport to meet commercial  and public needs and do so in a changing environment.

The obstacles in front of us are not fortress walls.  The obstacles just show us where we need to get to work.   Pbea


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