Marine Transportation System

Posts Tagged ‘MTS’

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

Obama Jobs Initiative: Meaning in Missing Words?

In Infrastructure, Ports on December 8, 2009 at 4:19 pm

This is what is in the president’s jobs proposal announced today with respect to infrastructure investment:

2. Investing in America’s Roads, Bridges and Infrastructure

Additional investment in highways, transit, rail, aviation and water. The President is calling for new investments in a wide range of infrastructure, designed to get out the door as quickly as possible while continuing a sustained effort at creating jobs and improving America’s productivity.

Support for merit-based infrastructure investment that leverages federal dollars. The Administration supports financing infrastructure investments in new ways, allowing projects to be selected on merit and leveraging money with a combination of grants and loans as was done through the Recovery Act’s TIGER program.

The second paragraph is a reference to the over-subscribed TIGER grant program for which a broad range of transportation projects are eligible and awardees will be announced no later than February.  The administration has shown an affinity for “merit-based” grants (as opposed to congressional earmarks and formula funding).   USDOT loves it because it puts the Secretary in the position to judge what projects are worth funding and to apply White House principles such as emission reduction.

With so little in the way of detail we might infer from the first paragraph that the Marine Transportation System may not be as much as part of the next jobs bill as it was in ARRA signed in February.  Does the Obama administration include port or marine transportation as eligible for job stimulus funding?  Especially for  the “out the door” quickly category?

Certainly connecting roads and rail are valuable elements of the MTS but when the president’s proposal for infrastructure funding uses the term “water” it may not mean maritime.  I think it means water and sewer infrastructure, which would appeal greatly to capital starved municipal governments but do little for marine highway and other MTS infrastructure needs.

Prior references by Congress and the administration to funding maritime related projects as part of ARRA used the word “port“ along with rail, highway and transit projects.  No mention of port or maritime in the White House statement or the president’s remarks at the Brookings Institution today.

That said, port/maritime projects were eligible for TIGER grants, which the White House appears to want to continue.  But almost by definition TIGER grant money doesn’t flow in a matter of couple months.  The first grant announcements won’t be made until close to a year after the funds were appropriated by Congress in February 2009.  Indeed, I’m told that White House officials said after the president’s remarks that some part of the infrastructure element of the s announcement today may not be intended to pour money into the system over the short term.

The White released an outline today.   The administration and Congress will put flesh on the bones and maybe once the House and Senate take up legislation early next year ports and  marine transportation, including capital needs for marine highway development, will be eligible.

For that to happen, the industry will have to make its case.     Pbea

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

The Marine Highway Route to Climate Action

In Green Transportation, Marine Highway, Surface Transportation Policy on October 15, 2009 at 7:26 pm

BlogActionDayCall me silly, but I give benefit of the doubt to John McCain, Barack Obama, Al Gore (yes, him, too) and the slew of scientists who have convinced leaders around the globe that the time for action to address global warming is…yesterday.   (With such heavy stakes I’m betting on the smart guys–people of science.)

Closer to home, I trust people like marine biologist Marisa Guarinello, who on Sunday told me of her recent stint in Antarctica.  She witnessed the consequences of diminishing ice habitat and the effects on native species.

I also trust my gut, paunchy thing that it is.  I never expected in my lifetime to see terra-evolution.  From my early years in grammar school I learned, as we all did, about  the  Ice Age and other such periods that lasted over the course of  tens of thousands  of years.  When I see ongoing evidence of change (the Melting Age?) occurring in my lifetime it’s a bit unnerving.

Want an example?  How about the shrinking of the Arctic?  So much so that studies and early planning are underway for Arctic shipping routes as ice is reduced to being less of an obstacle.  I understand that there is opportunity in them thar high latitude shortcuts, but that opportunity has the look of silver lining an awfully dark cloud.

The Marine Transportation System can do more than take advantage of a disturbing, ecological change to Planet Earth.   It also can contribute to the reversal of GHG factors.

In fact the future of the MTS–the prospect for growth in maritime-centered mobility–is dependent on marine transportation being relevant in the Climate Change Era (CCE).

Our friends in USDOT might agree with that assertion.  They are preparing the administration’s view as to the next surface transportation policy.  Even as the policy is in development clear themes are being voiced by Secretary Ray LaHood and his team.  Sustainability.  Livability.  Mobility.

The Secretary sees the MTS as fitting neatly in that framework of principles.  He said marine transportation, specifically the development of the American Marine Highway (AMH), as transformational for the national transportation system.

Marine transportation is highly efficient.  It moves large volumes of  things using less fuel than  the other surface modes.  It has advantages from a GHG perspective.   However it isn’t a slam dunk for “Green Mode of the Year.”  But with the right investments it can do even better in contributing to our environmental and energy security.  Fuel switching.  Operational adjustments.  New technologies.

Government and the private sector have roles to play here.  Federal policy should aggressively foster both the use and greater advances in marine transportation.  Investments in technology, new equipment and AMH services by the private sector, or its public sponsors, should be rewarded.  Research should be supported.  Transportation policies in this CCE should be unified through the integration of modal policies and some programs.

Like it or not, change is happening.  There are implications for the Marine Transportation System.  Let’s make it work both for future generations and for the industry that supports millions of jobs.   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

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

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

MTSNAC Today…and Tomorrow?

In Federal Government on July 22, 2009 at 1:02 pm

The Marine Transportation System National Advisory Council was established in May 2000 to serve and advise the Secretary of Transportation.  Its public and private sector stakeholder members have, for the most part, served three year terms.  (This writer served a term on the council and remains involved.)

The MTSNAC was there in 2001 to provide guidance to the Secretary on the very practical considerations pertaining to cargo flow when the Feds stood up security measures and new law after the Towers fell.  It prepared instructive presentations on global logistics with the intent to explain a little understood system to Washington policy makers.   It produced recommendations for the Secretary as to how new government policies and private sector actions can result in greater efficiency to goods movement.

This year the future of MTSNAC is under consideration.  Will it be extended beyond 2009?  Will it be reconstituted with changes?  Will it be terminated?  Those are options that have been suggested by various parties at USDOT.  The thinking in the Secretary’s Office on this may become known this week when MTSNAC meets here in Washington.  Perhaps its last meeting.

This much is evident.  Goods movement and the global supply chain are playing increasingly significant roles in the U.S. economy and have exposed where our national transportation system, including the MTS, warrants improvement and high level attention.  As such the leadership of USDOT would continue to benefit by having an advisory panel whose members include the non-Federal agencies and industries that are stewards, service providers and users of the marine transportation system.   Pbea