Using inland and coastal waterways to haul more cargo-laden containers and trailers would add “abundant and cost-effective new freight capacity,” while cutting highway maintenance costs, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood tells Congress in a new report.
In the detailed report on the Maritime Administration’s marine highway program, LaHood also said the “often unrecognized” benefits of using U.S. waterways to transport boxed shipments include “immediate relief of surface transportation congestion” and support for mariner and U.S. shipbuilding jobs.
Speaking to The Journal of Commerce’s North American Marine Highways and Logistics Conference in Baltimore last week, LaHood said the report, which he had just sent to Congress, showed how those water routes “fit within our larger system for moving goods.” He called the document “a roadmap to the future.”
Marine lanes still take only a small percentage of daily container or trailer loadings, but the report and LaHood’s remarks underscore the DOT’s plans to build that network to help surface transportation shed some market share as freight volume grows in the coming years.
To better develop the waterway option, he said, “We have to look at our transportation system as a whole, not as separate parts. We have to plan, prioritize and build marine highways in concert with our roadways, railways, airports and seaports — as part of a seamlessly integrated network.”
He told conference attendees and Congress through the Marad report that hauling more container shipments by barge helps reduce the amount of energy used per ton-mile to move freight, thereby cutting U.S. dependence on foreign oil and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
The DOT underlined that last issue in the report, prepared in consultation with an Environmental Protection Agency operating under a Supreme Court order to regulate those emissions. “The nation is committed to curbing GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions,” the report said, “of which transportation is second only to electricity generation as a source.”
In Baltimore, LaHood also noted transportation accounts for 70 percent of total U.S. oil consumption, and he tied the waterway efforts to President Obama’s stated goal of reducing oil imports by one-third.
“Marine highways,” LaHood said, “can be the most fuel-efficient, cost-effective way to haul goods from one place to another.”
By generating orders for domestic shipyards, the program provides “jobs in peacetime and human and capital resources to deploy in time of war or natural disaster,” the report to Congress added.
Although it catalogs a wide range of benefits, the report also says “expanded use of our waterways can only incrementally improve each of the challenges,” while any markets will remain fixed on rail and truck service. But it urges lawmakers to view marine corridors as “a logical next step as we address our larger surface transportation and funding challenges.”
A year ago, LaHood used the same conference to launch the DOT’s formal marine highway initiative, even though it had already been supporting such efforts and had earlier targeted $58 million in stimulus grants for container-on-barge services. In September, LaHood awarded another $7 million in grants to three marine highway operations, and the DOT has designated 18 corridors it can aid in developing or expanding such service.
By now, he said, more money has gone into waterways. Out of two rounds of TIGER grants — the DOT’s discretionary awards called Transportation Investments Generating Economic Recovery — LaHood said, “$215 million of them went to marine highway and ports projects.”
President Obama’s latest budget proposal includes setting up a large, multimodal infrastructure bank that could award grants and loans to highway, rail, port and marine highway projects.
But the report says the government would need to nurture the container-on-barge operations. Right now, the nation lacks an established network with frequent service, and many shippers are unfamiliar with this option. In addition, some advocates want cargo tax waivers to help build usage.
The report also says U.S. Customs regulations for cargo manifests put water shipments from Canada at a disadvantage compared with land moves, creating “a significant barrier” to using marine service.
Contact John D. Boyd at firstname.lastname@example.org.