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Less trucks, more barges – US Marine Highway investments

Photo: Crowley Maritime crowley_truck.jpeg
The US Maritime Administration (MARAD) has awarded just under $39m in grants under the Marine Highway programme, triple the amount in the in the previous year.

The programme which grew out of legislation passed in 2007, with the first grants coming in 2010, aims to remove truck traffic from motorways, and, instead, put its cargo onto the river system, or into intra-harbor trades.  The best-known projects to date have involved container on barge routings on the Lower Mississippi River, and on the James River where Norfolk and Portsmouth are linked with Richmond, Va.

It is noteworthy that the MARAD programme received $25m from the recently passed Infrastructure Bill.  In a statement regarding the just announced awards, the largest amount in history, Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg said: “Today’s announcement will help improve our marine highway system across the country, alleviating congestion, modernising port operations, and ultimately lowering the cost of goods for American families.”

The 2022 awards included $5.7m to expand container handling capabilities at Guam, as well as two large awards on the US West Coast- $5.6, to San Diego- at the southern end of the “M-5 Coastal Connector,” a coastwise barge supply chain, and also $4.2m for expanding a barge service on the Columbia River in the state of Washington.  

On the East Coast, the inchoate container on barge services around New York Harbor, where the motorways are significantly deteriorated due to truck traffic, garnered a $5.2m award for constructing of six landside docking facilities to enable handoffs from vessels to landside vehicles performing “last mile” deliveries into populated areas.  As the landside moves away from trucking, with New York set to implement congestion pricing measures, “electric bicycle delivery vehicles” were specifically mentioned in the announcement of the award.

Richmond, Va, which is already served by a successful container on barge run, has been awarded $3.7m for expanding barge handling capabilities at its terminal, which dates back to the 1940s. MARAD pegged 2021 throughput at 43,000 containers, and said that the aim is to double container volume by 2026.


Elsewhere, up in the Great Lakes, the Fincantieri group, leading operators of yards in the region,  received $3.3m for “acquisition of three types of equipment that will facilitate the safe, sustainable, and efficient transfer of project cargoes from shore to vessel and back to shore.”  

Puerto Rico, a US Territory (like Guam), has received $2.8m for acquiring a barge that will be used in a route linking Ceiba, on eastern end of the main island, with smaller islands of Vieques and Culebra . According to MARAD, “This system will move commercial trucks, wheeled construction equipment, fuel, and water tankers trucks between the main island of Puerto Rico and [the two islands]”.

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