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DOT unveils plan to expand America's marine highways: advocates say the push to increase short-sea shipping has the potential to improve supply chain operations and benefit other modes of freight transportation.

WASHINGTON -- Long overlooked as a viable alternative to over-the-road transportation, United States Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Ray LaHood last month announced the inception of "America's Marine Highway" program, an effort to shift freight to waterways from congested U.S. highways.

As part of this initiative, the Department of Transportation's Maritime Administration (MARAD) will help to identify rivers and coastal routes that could carry cargo efficiently, bypassing congested roads around busy ports and reducing greenhouse gases, according to DOT officials.

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This announcement follows $58 million in grants for projects supporting the start-up or expansion of Marine Highway services, which were awarded through the DOT's TIGER grants program. Congress also has allocated $7 million in grants that MARAD will award later this year.

The concept for a national Marine Highway program was conceived from a 2007 law that required the Secretary of Transportation to establish a shortsea transportation program and designate short-sea transportation projects to mitigate surface transportation, the DOT said.

Under "America's Marine Highway" program, regional transportation officials will be able to apply to have specific transportation corridors and individual projects designated by the DOT as a marine highway, provided they meet certain criteria. And once projects are designated, the DOT said that they will receive preferential treatment for any future federal assistance from the DOT or MARAD.

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In his comments at the North American Marine Highways and Logistics Conference in Baltimore, LaHood said that "for far too long we've overlooked the economic and environmental benefits that our waterways and domestic seaports offer as a means of moving freight in this country. Moving goods on the water has many advantages: It reduces air pollution. It can help reduce gridlock by getting trucks off our busy surface corridors."

Several experts in the short sea shipping sector lauded the news regarding the new marine highway program.

"This is a landmark transportation policy statement in my opinion that will finally put the full force and support of the U.S. Government behind this important initiative," said Mark Yonge, managing member of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based Maritime Transport & Logistics Advisors LLC, and vice-chair of the Coastwide Coalition.

"With this announcement, America's marine highways are now acknowledged as an integral part of the country's intermodal system," Yonge said. He also pointed out that this should be very comforting to all logistics providers and shippers now that the economy is getting back on track and transportation demand is once again growing.

"Although the new funding commitments may seem small, the fact that marine highways are now an important part of our transportation system will, hopefully, open the minds of the financial markets, shippers, 3PL's, the trucking industry, and others to accept marine highways in that light," added Yonge.

Wayne McCormick, owner and webmaster for AmericasMarineHighways.com, an advocacy site for the marine highway program, said that this effort will help mitigate congestion at a lot of different trucking choke points throughout the country and reduce pollution levels as well.

McCormick also pointed out that even though there is only $7 million currently available in MARAD grants, he said it is a "down payment" on the future of the program. He added that the initiative will develop future generations of operators to come forward and really start to develop it on a larger scale.

Former MARAD Administrator and current Secretary of Transportation for Virginia Sean Connaughton told LM in a 2007 interview that marine highways could be successful in moving primarily ocean-going containers out of ports and around bottlenecks to deliver cargo containers closer to their destination port.

"The focus is on where we can potentially take ocean containers that come off the largest deep draft vessels and then deposit them near an Interstate where they can be picked up by trucks and taken to their final destination," said Connaughton. "This can also help with truck driver staffing levels and help reduce fuel expenses, because a barge can hold several hundred containers at a time."
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Title Annotation:NEWS & ANALYSIS
Author:Berman, Jeff
Publication:Logistics Management (Highlands Ranch, Co.)
Date:May 1, 2010
Words:662
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