Marine Transportation System

Posts Tagged ‘MARAD’

I’m Dreaming of a New Congress

In Federal Government, Intermodal, Marine Highway, MTS Policy, Surface Transportation Policy, Water Resources on January 4, 2011 at 12:25 am

The new two-year Congress commences on January 5th and it promises to be different in ways beyond the changed list of sworn-in men and women.

In fact I think that we could see the start of some structural changes in Washington and maybe…just maybe…something good could come out of it.  Am I betting on it?  No. Washington is too fond of the fetal position.

However this time issues of a more fundamental nature are getting attention.  Those issues have been around for a long time, long before ARRA, TARP and the big dollar spending and tax cuts necessitated by the severe drop in the economy.  And it appears that some spines were stiffened in the last election and not just on the Republican side.  There appears to be more universal acknowledgment than ever before as to:

  • Growing entitlement programs that dominate non-defense spending and with predicted revenue shortfalls.
  • A large defense budget we can’t afford to leave off the table when cutting spending.
  • A tax system in need of a significant overhaul and simplification.
  • An infrastructure policy of disinvestment that makes our transportation less efficient and dooms us to second place status in the world economy.
  • Our economic and national security in the hands of oil producing countries most of which, at best, do not share our democratic values.

There is a potential for consensus that could slowly build around putting in order the nation’s fiscal house and addressing other policy deficits.  It is possible.  (Then again I thought it was reasonable to expect the Giants to take on the New Jersey label when they made the move to the Meadowlands.)

Still, hope persists because those are serious problems that undermine our long term competitiveness.

Closer to home…there are comparatively smaller issues that are fundamental in their own way and deserve attention in the new Congress.  Wading into the policy weeds, here are some things I would like to see Congress address over the next two years:

  • A vigorous marine highway program built on the converging imperatives to reduce petroleum consumption and emissions in the transportation sector.
    • Leverage private investment dollars in new vessel construction and incentives for users of blue and brown water service.
    • Encourage State initiatives to adopt marine highways as elements in the interstate transportation system.
    • Waive the Harbor Maintenance Tax for intermodal cargo moving in the domestic trade.
  • Improving understanding of marine transportation and the contribution it makes and, even more, can make.
    • Examine what is needed to update a US maritime policy to enable the private sector to break the cycle of decline and the public sector to incorporate US flag shipping in surface transportation improvements.
    • Improve funding and human resources for the Maritime Administration, which remains a lesser modal agency in the USDOT family.
    • Renew the effort to coordinate and elevate maritime related issues among the many agencies including more buy-in by USDOT, the one department that has the most to gain.
  • Fixing Federal water resources policy, especially as regards navigation.
    • Ensure port channel maintenance funding on a par with Harbor Maintenance Tax collections.
    • Fix the too-long flawed, too-long Federal (WRDA) process of planning, funding and constructing navigation projects.
    • Distinguish between frivolous earmarking and the prosecution of fully vetted navigation projects that provide economic security in most regions of the country.

The difference between the list above and the list below is that the latter is more politically doable…if Congress and the Administration would pay it attention.   Pbea   (this entry is a revised version 1.4.11)

Toward Developing MTS Related Policy

In Federal Government, Leadership, MTS Policy, Surface Transportation Policy on February 15, 2010 at 1:07 pm

Sitting the USDOT leadership in front of an audience has become a bit of a tradition each January.   Most of the brass, sans Secretary LaHood, appeared en panel at the recent TRB annual convention.  The policy and modal chiefs offered brief overviews as to what is on their plates.  Here are notes from two that have particular relevance to MTS related policy.

Under Secretary for Policy Roy Kienitz covered the big item — the next surface transportation authorization bill.   This year the Secretary’s office will pull together recommendations for the Obama White House to consider in preparing a package for Congress.

Roy stated the vision:  A renewed sense of strong federal leadership in transportation centered on meeting national needs.

He defined national needs: safety, state of good repair, economic competitiveness, livability, and environ sustainability.

The department’s priorities: organizing programs around those needs and recommending ideas to congress.

The challenges he described:  getting Americans excited about the vision and finding a politically acceptable way to pay for it.

David Matsuda, the Maritime Administration’s acting Administrator, is awaiting Senate confirmation.  He offered his take on what is what is driving the need to develop a vision for the marine transportation system as it applies to nation’s economic competitiveness.

The Panama Canal widening has the potential to significantly alter land and water routes.  Add to that potential changes relating to the use of the Suez, an Artic route, etc.    In short, we’re facing a whole new freight delivery market.

The Federal government must play an active role such as help “coordinate” investments in port access and intermodal connectors.  Few studies and data are available.  MARAD is commissioning a study to fully explore the impacts of a widened canal on our transportation system.

David said the study outcome is expected to shape national policies and help assess the capacity of channels, connections, etc.  He spoke of the need to factor in the capacity of port terminals and landside connections, the ingenuity of port authorities and terminal operators, and the competitive measures Canada and Mexico ports will take.  To understand how fuel prices affect freight economics.   And to identify marine highways to relieve surface congestion and move goods in a more energy efficient manner on the water.

There’s work to be done at the Department of Transportation.  And plenty reason for the freight community to plug into it.   Pbea

The Next Maritime Administrator

In Federal Government, Leadership on January 27, 2010 at 11:50 pm

David Matsuda –the President’s pick to serve as Maritime Administrator–is ready to serve.

He returned to familiar turf this week when he appeared at his nomination hearing.  He worked for the same committee that will be voting on his nomination.  His work in the Senate had to do with railroads, ports, transit, trucking and aviation.  He worked for a senator whose state’s second largest employment sector is logistics and which is host to the New York Harbor and Delaware River gateways.

Since mid 2009 David Matsuda has been running the Maritime Administration as the top political appointee at the modal agency.  He has the confidence of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood who first knew him as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy.

Importantly for MARAD–and for the marine transportation system–he has knowledge and experience to help shape a new transportation policy for the administration to recommend to Congress.  That transportation policy has to include, for the first time, a national freight policy.  And by rights it should put the marine transportation system squarely in that policy.

David Matsuda’s prepared statement for the hearing was brief and straightforward.  He reminded the committee that the “impacts of our nation’s maritime industry are not limited to coastal states.”

“Items brought in by ship make their way to store shelves and factory lines throughout the nation. Some raw materials we mine, goods we produce, and agricultural products we grow for export leave through our seaports or travel down rivers or across great lakes to distant markets.  In all, 36 states have a maritime port—whether it’s on a river, lake, gulf, or ocean. Merchant mariners live in just about every state in the Union, and midshipmen nominated by you and your colleagues to study at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy can claim home to all but one state. Some states have shipyards or marine manufacturers which can be the largest sources of jobs in an entire community or region.”

He noted acknowledged the challenges.

“Today’s industry is struggling with many tough challenges: a lagging economy, climate change, the threats of invasive species, piracy and other security issues, a greatly expanded Panama Canal opening in 2014, and an aging workforce, to name a few.”

One of the challenges facing the next Administrator is to make something of the marine highway program.  It is just getting started.  With no assurance of a reliable funding stream for the program, MARAD–hopefully with strong support from the Secretary’s office–will have to make the most of its modest resources to develop a credible and creative program that will be central to MARAD’s mission for many years to come.

“I feel my experience working within the federal government, and especially working in the Senate, has allowed me a broad understanding of how these challenges can be approached successfully: by working with all stakeholders in good faith and with transparency in decision-making.”

We wish him well.    Pbea

The Grass is Greener — Pt. 2

In Efficiency, Intermodal, Marine Highway on January 19, 2010 at 10:05 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 continue this series with another look to the north and Canada’s North American gateway strategy. This time…investment in short sea.

This item caught the eye.

Government of Canada takes action to facilitate shortsea shipping

OTTAWA — The Honourable Stockwell Day, Minister of International Trade and Minister for the Asia-Pacific Gateway, today announced completion of the Southern Railway of British Columbia (SRY) rail barge ramp, a shortsea shipping project at the marine rail terminal on Annacis Island in Delta. This project was made possible by $4.6 million in federal funding under the Asia-Pacific Gateway and Corridor Initiative.  (release: January 15, 2010)

Turns out the Canadian gateway strategy isn’t just attracting international containers to ease them on down to the U.S. by rail.  The plans for the Pacific gateway include using the marine highway as an “optimizing” element for goods movement.   “Better use of our waterways through shortsea shipping can help alleviate congestion, facilitate trade, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and increase overall transportation efficiency.”

After a call for proposals five projects were selected for the plan totaling over CN$20 million, to be matched by the private sector grantees:

  • Fraser River Shuttle;
  • Deltaport Shortsea Berth;
  • Vanterm Shortsea Berth;
  • Mountain View Apex Container Terminal; and
  • Southern Railway of B.C. Rail Barge Ramp.

These projects in the Vancouver, B.C. region “call for the development of specialized facilities such as docks, ramps, and fixed-crane infrastructure that would facilitate shortsea shipping of a variety of cargos (including containers, railcars, and break-bulk cargos) that ultimately either originate from or are destined for Asia.”  (release: September 5, 2008)

This marine highway element of the Asia-Pacific Gateway strategy is designed to increase efficiency and reduce environmental impacts of goods movement.  It is intermodal. It ties marine to rail and road.  “The Annacis Island marine rail terminal will provide industries in coastal B.C. and Vancouver Island with rail connections to four major railways: Canadian Pacific, Canadian National, Union Pacific and Burlington Northern Santa Fe.”   Obviously, an equal opportunity connector.

It may be a fair to say that the above grants planned to boost short sea shipping in Canada’s largest port region are roughly comparable to the marine highway grants program recently authorized by the U.S. Congress. The Canadian grants support pieces of a strategic plan; the U.S. grants will support projects that meet certain market and public benefit criteria and are in designated “corridors.”   The Canadian grants support capital requirements, which the U.S. version is likely to do.   On the other hand, the above grants go to projects of companies, such as terminal operators.  While most marine highway projects in the U.S. are assumed to be private sector initiatives the grants likely would go to sponsoring public agencies.

……

One googling leads to another.  I’ll close with a video from The Sustainable Region TV program of Vancouver, a place known for its clear skies (and a looming Olympics).    Pbea

Mile Markers on the Marine Highway

In Intermodal, Marine Highway, Surface Transportation Policy on December 18, 2009 at 12:42 pm

Since the notion of American marine highways helping to mitigate landside congestion took root early this decade–along with the call for Federal policy and program–voices have been heard to ask, “so, where is it?”   “What happened to those promised new short sea services?”  Why isn’t [big box retailer] using coastal shipping?

Cynics who habitually dismiss the competitiveness of U.S. flag shipping eagerly seize opportunity to validate their view.  Observers see their doubts re-enforced or just wonder if there is any there there.

Meanwhile, advocates are impatient for government to concur with the public benefits rationale by enacting major policy directives and funding game changing projects.  (There is also the understandable impatience of entrepreneurial risk takers whose initiatives could use a short term assist to help establish themselves in the market.)

I count among those seeking a decisive boost for new marine highway operations.  But expectations are tempered by the Washington experience.  To keep our sanity folks here learn to tolerate the tortoise pace of policy-craft.   We look for the smallish increments that represent progress, even as we look to accomplish greater things farther down the road.

So what  progress has been made?

Those are the highlights, added to by various research papers and reports.  It is worth noting that the above achievements are not the result of a well-funded, cohesive effort by a powerful maritime industry lobby.  (Indeed, one might argue that none of those modifiers apply, especially when compared to other transportation sectors.)  They largely were achieved by decision-makers coming to recognize the inherent advantages of domestic marine transportation, and with the encouragement of various labor, port, public agency and private sector advocates (as well as the Coastwise Coalition that I chair) who have validated that policy direction.

So what progress will we see in the coming year or two?

  • USDOT will announce the multimodal TIGER grants and we will learn if applicants whose projects would enhance new AMH services–such as Eco Transport (CA) and SeaBridge Freight (TX/FL)–are among the awardees.
  • MARAD will issue a final rule for the SST/AMH  program, designate AMH coastal and inland corridors, and call for projects.
  • USDOT will report to Congress on hindrances to AMH development and make recommendations, some of which may resemble recommendations made to the Secretary in 2009 by the Marine Transportation System National Advisory Council.
  • MARAD will issue a rule for the new grants program and, with the cooperation of the Secretary, will make every effort to award grants by October 2010.
  • President Obama’s FY 2011 budget will include a specific funding request for SST grants.
  • Congress will act on the legislation to exempt from the Harbor Maintenance Tax non-bulk cargo that moves between US ports and among Great Lakes ports.
  • Congress will consider new surface transportation policy that to some extent will recognize how AMH routes can benefit traditional users of congested land routes.

That’s what I see happening.    Pbea

Short Sea Grants on the Horizon

In Marine Highway on October 29, 2009 at 2:02 pm

In 2007 Congress approved marine highways as a new policy direction in a measure signed into law by President George W. Bush.  The Secretary of Transportation “shall designate short sea transportation routes as extensions of the surface transportation system…” and is authorized to “designate” short sea transportation projects.

Yesterday President Barack Obama signed a bill containing an addition to the policy and program.   “The Secretary shall establish and implement a short sea transportation grant program to implement projects or components” of a designated project.

Originally sponsored by Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) the grant provision was part of a Maritime Administration Authorization Act, subsequently folded into a Defense Department Authorization bill (see title XXXV) that went to the White House.

This is a welcome addition to the still new policy initiative to increase marine highway use in the United States.  It is a modest but important enhancement of the 2007 law.  Money gives meaning to policy.  Even if it is just $15 million, the amount that the Administration is prepared to spend if Congress were to appropriate it.   (The  Senate version of the still unresolved DOT appropriations bill contains funding.)  Indeed the Maritime Administration budget plan includes $15 million for each of  the next couple of years.

The new grant program is broadly writ.  To be eligible to apply for funding a project must be “financially viable” and demonstrate that “a market exists” for the project services.  The Federal grant could be no more than 80 percent of the cost for which the money would be used.  That use presumably would be to cover capital costs.  We will see how the Maritime Administration further defines the new grant program through regulation in the months ahead.   Before they do that  MARAD will finalize the rulemaking first published for comment in October 2008 regarding the designation of routes and projects.   Pbea

A Slice of Pie for Hungry Ports

In Infrastructure, Ports on October 13, 2009 at 11:25 pm

I’m not sure if this is a troubling sign but Sally Fields comes to mind when I think of TIGER grants.

Those are the multi-modal, discretionary grants that were created in the economic stimulus bill Congress approved last February.  The pleased folks at USDOT dubbed the program TIGER–a suitable acronym–and put flesh on the bones. Pleased because this was one of those rare times when Congress was willing to say: “Here, Mr. Secretary, is 1,500,000,000 dollars for you to spend, outside of existing modal grant programs, at your discretion.

There were some rules of course, but none of the earmarked projects Congress is so fond of TIGERpiedesignating to the fullest extent of available funds.

And with a reform-oriented SAFETEA-LU sequel due to be written by Congress it was not lost on USDOT that if the TIGER program were managed well–whatever “well” might mean to congressional overseers–it could be a model for replication.  USDOT may be entrusted to award more competitive grants on the basis of project merit and worth to the country.  Imagine that.  (Indeed, the Senate DOT appropriations bill for FY 2010 includes $1.1 Bn for additional TIGER grants.)

In the months that followed enactment of the $750 Bn stimulus package–some $48 Bn of which was allocated to USDOT for near term implementation–Secretary Ray LaHood told port officials and others involved in the MTS that port project applications would be welcomed for TIGER grants.  He told the D.C. Propeller Club audience in May that the maritime sector has been neglected and TIGER grants were an opportunity.

Well, the ports listened.  Shades of Sally Fields!  When in 1985 she won her second golden statue for her role in Places in the Heart the former “Flying Nun” famously cried, “You really like me!”

The ports took to heart the Secretary’s encouragement. He really wanted them to apply for grants and apply they did.  Ninety-five applications were submitted for port related projects totaling $3.3 Bn.  Certainly the smallest of the modal slices on the pie chart, but not an overwhelming difference when compared to rail.

Toward what end?  We’ll learn in February what projects are approved and how many are for ports.  The TIGER grants and pending legislation to grant MARAD infrastructure improvement authorities are signs that change may be in the wind.  The Feds are becoming more open to assisting ports with more than just channel construction and maintenance.  Certainly MARAD is eager to claim new program areas.  And some of the ports, perhaps an increasing number, are welcoming the help of Uncle Sam…maybe even inside the gate.   Pbea

The MPO Role in AMH

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

NYMTC

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