Department of Transportation moves to put more freight on water

DOT’s Elaine Chao says funding will increase efficiency of US transportation system. (Photo: DOT)

Pilot projects will increase barge movements of freight while Senator aims to put more money to grants.

The US government is taking aim at truck congested roadways and poor marine port infrastructure with two new initiatives.

The U.S. Department of Transportation announced $4.8 million in grants, administered through the Maritime Administration (MARAD), that will help advance the Marine Highway program. 

The grants are aimed at highways serving ports in Louisiana, Virginia, New York, and Connecticut, and support the development of new container-on-barge services in Kentucky and Rhode Island, the DOT said.

“Strengthening the country’s waterways and domestic seaports stimulates economic growth, reduces congestion and increases the efficiency of our national freight transportation system,” said Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao.

The Marine Highway Program uses 29,000 miles of navigable waterways to relieve land-based freight traffic, especially along major highways. 

“These marine highway grants will help expand freight movement on the water and modernize our inland ports and waterways,” said MARAD Administrator Mark Buzby.

 The DOT's Marine Highway System
The DOT’s Marine Highway System

The largest grant will go to the Port of Baton Rouge and Port of New Orleans. It will receive $2.5 million to purchase marine terminal and handling equipment for efficient loading and unloading of container-on-barge operations in New Orleans. 

The service is designed to relocate empty containers in Memphis to meet export customer demand in Baton Rouge. This grant aims to expand service to the New Orleans France Road terminal and will allow northbound containers to be offloaded as far north as Memphis.

The Paducah-McCracken County Riverport Authority will also receive $250,000 for a container-on-barge demonstration project.
In the Northeast, Quonset Development Corporation, a Rhode Island state-sponsored company, will receive $855,200 for an 800-TEU barge service running between from New York and New Jersey to Rhode Island. The barge will remove approximately 83,200 containers and 14,976,000 vehicular miles annually from the road, according to MARAD.

The New York City Economic Development Corporation will get a $300,000 grant for studying how to increase shipping container movement by barge between New Jersey and New York terminals and beyond. 

The Port of Virginia will receive $456,000 for the James River Expansion Project which aims to move freight between terminals in Hampton Roads and the Richmond Marine Terminal. The Connecticut Port Authority will get $503,000 for a ferry project across the Long Island Sound. 

In a separate announcement, Mississippi Senator Roger Wicker introduced the Port Improvements Act, which will give the Department of Transportation further authority to award grants aimed at “improving the safety, efficiency, or reliability of the movement of goods
through ports and intermodal connections to ports.”