Brownwater News, April 2017

Chao: Delays, not money, impede infrastructure progress

Speaking at the spring conference of the American Association of Port Authorities this month, newly confirmed Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao undoubtedly surprised her audience by declaring that the problem facing President Trump’s proposed $1 trillion 10-year plan to modernize this country’s “outdated infrastructure, including transportation infrastructure,” is not money. That’s right — it’s not money.

“It’s the delays caused by government permitting processes that hold up projects for years, even decades, making them risky investments,” Chao said. What the president’s plan hopes to do is “unleash the potential for private investment in infrastructure by incentivizing public-private partnerships.”

Multimodal ports have many different types of infrastructure, Chao noted. Some ports have specialized ship- and cargo-handling infrastructure. Others have harbors or connecting inland and coastal waterways that may need dredging to accommodate newer, bigger ships. It’s estimated that substandard infrastructure could cost the U.S. economy as much as $3.9 trillion and 2.5 million jobs by 2025.

Chao reported that investors have told her “there is ample capital available waiting to invest in infrastructure projects.” The new DOT secretary said the country “can no longer afford to take decades to build new projects. Economists say cutting the time to make decisions on roads, bridges and ports from 10 years to two could reduce costs by as much as $427 billion over six years. So we need to identify the obstacles standing in the way of timelier project delivery.”

Meanwhile, members of the House Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee have urged Trump to invest the $1 trillion in infrastructure to fully utilize funds in the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund, maximizing the capability of the Army Corps of Engineers to operate and maintain the nation’s ports and harbors.

Ports 'apprehensive' about Trump’s budget

U.S. seaports are worried about what they’ll find, or not find, in President Trump’s final fiscal year 2018 federal budget. Kurt Nagle, president and CEO of the American Association of Port Authorities, said in mid-March that ports were “apprehensive” about the budget because “adequate federal investments” for port-related infrastructure “are crucial for the efficient movement of goods so the nation can remain globally competitive.”

Among funds that ports stand to lose in the next fiscal year, starting Oct. 1, are grants provided by the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) program — which supplied $61.8 million to ports last year — and money cut from the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget. The EPA’s budget funds Diesel Emissions Reduction Act (DERA) grants.

“DERA grants have been especially helpful in decreasing port-related diesel emissions in (local) communities,” Nagle said. “These federal grants have helped ports to make investments in clean diesel equipment and reduction strategies at the ports themselves, and they’ve used them to help businesses buy newer cleaner-burning trucks, locomotives and vessels.”

Coast Guard releases two towing-vessel policy letters

The U.S. Coast Guard has released two policy letters said to represent significant progress toward the smooth implementation of Subchapter M.

CG-CVC Policy Letter 17-01 permits towing vessels using the towing safety management system (TSMS) option and that are in possession of a valid UTV (uninspected towing vessel) decal to be issued an initial certificate of inspection (COI) without undergoing an additional Coast Guard inspection.

CG-MMC Policy Letter 01-17 establishes a streamlined process by which mariners currently supervising fuel transfers on towing vessels under a letter of designation may obtain a Merchant Mariner Credential with a restricted tankerman endorsement without additional training.

The Coast Guard has determined that a valid UTV decal issued under the Towing Vessel Bridging Program provides objective evidence that the Coast Guard has attended and conducted regulatory compliance activities on board the vessel. The Coast Guard said Policy Letter 17-01 is consistent with the service's commitment to “encourage and incentivize the use of the TSMS option and taking a risk-based approach to the expenditure of Coast Guard resources.”

Updated study highlights benefits of moving cargo by barge

A new study comparing cargo capacities continues to place inland river barges well ahead of trucks and trains.

“While we live in a truly intermodal society, this study’s comparison of the three transportation modes underscores the many benefits of moving cargo by water,” said Daniel Mecklenborg, chairman of the National Waterways Foundation (NWF). “The mission of the National Waterways Foundation is to develop the intellectual and factual arguments for an efficient, well-funded and secure inland waterways system.”

The study, commissioned by the NWF, was originally conducted and peer-reviewed in 2009, and then updated in 2014 and again in 2017. This year’s update found that a common 15-barge river tow has the same capacity as 1,050 trucks and 216 railcars pulled by six locomotives. Also, the study noted that a loaded hopper barge transporting wheat “carries enough product to make almost 2.5 million loaves of bread, or the equivalent of one loaf of bread for almost every person in the state of Kansas.”

Continuing with the updated comparison, the study determined that for each member of the public injured in a barge accident, 80 are injured in rail accidents and 824 are injured in truck accidents. There are 79 trucking deaths and 22 rail deaths for every barge-related death.

The study also looked at the environmental impacts of the three modes and concluded that inland waterways transport generates far fewer emissions of hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide than rail or truck per million-ton-miles. According to the study, the amount of cargo currently transported on the Mississippi River and Ohio River systems, the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway (GIWW), and the Columbia and Snake rivers is the equivalent of 49 million truck trips annually. Diverting this traffic from waterways to roads would cause the average daily number of trucks using segments of interstate highway between urban areas to rise by almost 120 percent nationwide. The impact near the waterways considered in this study would be more severe than the national average, especially during heavier truck travel periods.

Seaway’s 286-day navigation season in 2016 ties record

The St. Lawrence Seaway’s 286-day navigation season in 2016 tied a record first established in 2008 and matched in 2013. Thirty-five million tons of cargo transited the Seaway locks last year.

Grain movements posted a strong performance for a third consecutive season, contributing 11 million tons of the total and continuing to track well above the five-year average. Eight hundred ninety-one foreign-flag vessels transited U.S. Seaway locks during the 2016 season, an increase of 4 percent from the 2015 season.

By Professional Mariner Staff