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Trump's mega infrastructure plans slow, but ports gaining small victories

The bold/audacious/humongous or simply bodacious Trump “infrastructure” plan, estimated to be anywhere from $1.5trn to $2trn, seems not to be happening, but small victories are being seen in the ports sector.

These are important to the ports business, and, therefore, to carriers, cargo interests, and terminals. As the legislators in Washington DC continue their mundane - ie non-headline grabbing - work on reauthorising the FAST (Fixing Americas Surface Transportation) Act, an important gate-keeper, the Senate’s Environment and Public Works (EPW) committee in the Senate, gave a draft of the bill a big thumbs-up.

The actual four year (2021- 2025) re-authorisation of the FAST Act, worth a mere $287bn, is a year out, but port interests were encouraged by early waypoints in the tortuous voyage towards a new transportation spending bill.

The American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA), stressing the importance of multi-modal funding, applauded one feature, the Surface Transport Block Grant Program, because it “increases eligibility to include rural barge landing, dock and waterfront infrastructure projects”. The AAPA also praised features that would expand another program, Nationally Significant Freight Highway projects - dubbed INFRA.

Meanwhile, the US Department of Transportation (USDOT) is in the process of choosing recipients for the 2019 INFRA grants. Another trade group, the Coalition for America’s Gateways and Trade Corridors (CAGTC), whose members include Ports America Chesapeake, lauded an $125m INFRA grant award that will help fund the raising of the roof (aka vertical clearance) of a rail tunnel in Baltimore that will enable the “double stack” movement of containers between the Seagirt Marine Terminal and inland points concentrated in Maryland, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio, via the CSX railroad.

This is a big deal. The CAGTC described the endeavour, The Howard Street Tunnel Project, as “a decades long effort to address a major freight infrastructure need in our nation’s transportation network.” Reduced blockages on the road, as freight moves by rail rather than truck, are a major benefit; the motorways in the region, including route I-95, are among the most congested in the US.

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MARAD (the US Maritime Administration), an agency within the DOT, was also in the news in designating a group of projects as eligible for future funding in the “Americas Marine Highway” program - an effort which aims to take freight off the roads and on to barges and ferries. The newly eligible routes include services along each of the US Coasts, ranging from New England (Connecticut and Long Island Sound), the mid-Atlantic (including the Virginia coast), the US Gulf (including the Houston area) and the US West Coast (Seattle, and Port of Morrow in Oregon).​