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Politics and US port funding

Photo: Wikipedia Creative Commons Port_of_Wilmington_(Delaware)_2011-07-09.jpeg
Port of Wilmington
The US Department of Transportation (USDOT) has awarded some $653 million for projects as part of its Port Infrastructure Development Program (PIDP), which is seen as having become a critical source of funding for the country’s ports.

The program, administered by the Maritime Administration (part of USDOT), was established in 2010 with the first funding coming in 2019; it received a major boost with the 2021 Infrastructure Bill spearheaded by President Joe Biden. The American Great Lakes Port Association (ALGPA) said, in a Position Paper: “In five short years, the PIDP program has become a critical source of federal assistance to reconstruct docks, improve road and rail access, expand storage capacity and modernized cargo handling equipment.”

In the latest batch of grants 41 projects spread over 26 states will receive funding.

The largest projects include $54.2 million for a container terminal expansion in Tacoma, Washington, on the West Coast. Other major recipients are The Port of Long Beach (POLB, in California) North Harbor Transportation System Improvement Project ($53.6 million), the Edgemoor Container Terminal project ($50 million) in Wilmington, Delaware - President Joe Biden’s home state.

Meanwhile there is $47.4 million for the nearby Baltimore County Offshore Wind Manufacturing Hub, and $32 million for reconstruction of berthing at Port Newark, New Jersey. Also in New Jersey, a hub at Paulsboro, on the Delaware Bay side of the state, being constructed to serve mid-Atlantic offshore wind (including two now cancelled Ørsted windfarms, among others), will be receiving $20.5 million.

While the grants are ostensibly for seaports, transportation analysts (and allocators of funds) are quick to point out that the ports are an integral part of a bigger picture infrastructure. The POLB award is a case in point, with port officials noting that: “The project is part of the larger Pier B On-Dock Rail Support Facility, which aims to strengthen the Port’s competitiveness by enhancing on-dock rail capacity throughout the Port.” They describe the Pier B railyard (one of multiple facilities within POLB that will be upgraded) as: “… a critical juncture and rail hub for the entire country, enabling the nation’s largest port complex to connect to 30 other major rail hubs…”

In the States, agricultural representation in Washington, DC is a powerful force; indeed, recent revisions to regulation of liner shipping, notably the Ocean Shipping Reform Act of 2022, have been driven by shippers of farm products. The Northwest Seaport Alliance, which brings together the ports at Seattle and Tacoma, in discussing the grant for expanding the Husky Container Terminal, had said: “By densifying the terminal and expanding its refrigerated cargo capacity, we will be able to improve service for importers and help agricultural exporters move more cargo to international markets.”

They added that: “The installation of additional reefer racks and power supply units will triple the refrigerated container capacity at the marine terminal. This expansion will meet the increasing demand for refrigerated goods and support American agriculture exports to international markets.”

Of course- with anything coming out of Washington, D.C. budgetary considerations, with a distinct political flavour, loom large. The US Secretary of Transportation, Pete Buttigieg (from the Democratic party), noting ongoing uncertainties related to budgets, with a potential government shutdown looming on November 17, urged that the Republican party not seek to cut back infrastructure-related funding.

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