Biden Administration Unveils U.S. Ports and Waterways Action Plan

Written by Nick Blenkey, Senior Editorial Consultant and Web Editor, Marine Log
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Containers at the Port of Savannah, which will now receive funding for “pop-up container yards” to alleviate congestion. Photo: Georgia Ports Authority/Jeremy Polston

H.R. 3684, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, on Nov. 5 passed the House by a vote of 228 to 206. The measure had already passed the Senate and now awaits President Biden’s signature. Passage of the bill is good news for ports, waterways and offshore wind, providing $17.4 billion in funding for waterway and coastal infrastructure, inland waterway improvements and port infrastructure, which will benefit rail-served facilities.

Saying that “President Biden is not waiting to take action,” the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) on Nov. 9 announced an action plan aimed at accelerating investment in ports, waterways, and freight networks. Immediate actions under the plan include:

Flexibility in port grants. The USDOT will allow port authorities across the country to redirect project cost savings toward tackling supply chain challenges. The Administration will continue to look for additional flexibilities and other solutions to support infrastructure needs in the goods movement supply chain.

Alleviate congestion at the Port of Savannah by funding the Georgia Ports Authority pop-up container yards project. With this policy change, the GPA will be able to reallocate more than $8 million to convert existing inland facilities into five pop-up container yards in both Georgia and North Carolina. Under the plan, the Port of Savannah will transfer containers via rail and truck further inland so that they can be closer to their final destination, which will make available valuable real estate closer to the port. The effort will free up more dock space and speed goods flow in and out of the Port of Savannah, which leads the nation in containerized agricultural exports.”

Further near-term actions:

Launch programs to modernize ports and marine highways with more than $240 million in grant funding within the next 45 days. The Port Infrastructure Development Grant program is the first and only federal grant program wholly dedicated to investments in port infrastructure. USDOT will award $230 million in funding for this program and $13 million for the Marine Highway Program to support waterborne freight service.

Identify projects for U.S. Army Corps of Engineers construction at coastal ports and inland waterways within the next 60 days.” USDOT says this plan “will provide a roadmap for more than $4 billion in funding to repair outdated infrastructure and to deepen harbors for larger cargo ships.”

Prioritize key ports of entry for modernization and expansion within the next 90 days. This plan will identify $3.4 billion in investments to upgrade obsolete inspection facilities and allow more efficient international trade through the northern and southern borders.

Open competition for the first round of port infrastructure grants funded through the bipartisan infrastructure deal within 90 days. DOT will announce more than $475 million in additional funding for port and marine highway infrastructure.”

Additional Freight Investments

In addition to making the largest federal investment in American port infrastructure and freight networks in history, saysUS DOT, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal will invest in “transformative, shovel-worthy projects that revitalize other critical elements of America’s transportation infrastructure and supply chains.” This includes an additional $110 billion to repair roads and bridges and support major transformational projects. These resources, if smartly deployed, can meaningfully improve supply chains and goods movement. To help states and other grantees direct federal resources to transportation supply chain needs, the Biden-Harris Administration will:

Develop a comprehensive freight movement playbook for states: USDOT will publish a playbook for states on how to use grant and loan programs across the department to support goods movement and help alleviate freight bottlenecks. This playbook will highlight the policies, funding and financing available to strengthen the supply chain. States will receive more than $50 billion per year in federal-aid highway funding, much of which can be used to repair and modernize existing infrastructure to improve the performance of freight corridors.

Incorporate the best worldwide freight planning practices into state freight plans: USDOT will develop and issue revised guidance on state freight plans that incorporates best worldwide freight planning practices. the freight plans that states are currently required to produce will be broadened to include supply chain cargo flows, an inventory of commercial ports, the impacts of e-commerce on freight infrastructure, and an assessment of truck parking facilities.”

Data Sharing to Support Supply Chains

Digital infrastructure also plays a key role in facilitating supply chains. The goods movement chain is almost entirely privately operated and spans shipping lines, terminal operators, railroads, truckers, warehouses, and beneficial cargo owners. These different actors have each made great strides in digitizing their own internal operations, but they do not always exchange data with each other. This lack of data exchange causes delays and inefficiencies as cargo moves from one part of the supply chain to another, driving up costs and increasing fragility.”

To “strengthen resiliency and leverage digitization of the supply chain,” the Administration said it will:

Call for new data standards for goods movement. USDOT will work with the Federal Maritime Commission to publish a request for information on standardized data exchange requirements for goods movement in the transportation supply chain. Standardized data are an important first step to ensure interoperability among actors in the supply chain and greater transparency, resiliency, fluidity, competition, and efficiency across the supply chain.”

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