MarAd unveils ship designs for users of â€˜Marine Highwaysâ€™
The U.S. Maritime Administration (MarAd) has released a report detailing 11 new designs for ships specifically engineered for Americaâ€™s Marine Highways. The designs are for new ships that can transport cargoes that would otherwise be trucked over congested roadways.
Maritime Administrator David Matsuda said the designs focus primarily on roll-on/roll-off (ro/ro) vessels intended to carry wheeled cargo such as automobiles, trucks and trailers, or railroad cars that are driven on and off the ship on their own wheels. The designs include six ro/ro vessels, three combination ro/ro container carriers, a feeder containership, and a ro/ro passenger ferry.
MarAd and the U.S. Navy also have signed a memorandum of agreement to provide up to $800,000 to advance two or three of the new designs to the next stage of design development, with the ultimate goal of constructing multiple vessels in U.S. shipyards.
While the report contains only a preliminary economic-impact analysis, MarAd is currently developing a more comprehensive economic analysis of marine highways operations.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood formally launched the Americaâ€™s Marine Highways program in 2010, a new initiative to move more cargo shipments onto U.S. waterways. Since that time, LaHood has designated 18 marine highway corridors and provided $215 million in funding for marine highway and port projects.
House postpones action on highway bill
House leaders have postponed until early next year any legislative action on a multiyear surface transportation bill.
Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, explained that with the Christmas holiday coming up, there wasnâ€™t enough time to proceed with a bill. However, he said there would be enough time to pass a multi-year measure before the current extension expires on March 31, 2012. One of the major issues still before the lawmakers is finding the money to pay for the bill, Mica said.
In November, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee approved a two-year $83 billion highway bill. Micaâ€™s committee hopes to consider a companion bill by the end of February 2012.
Meanwhile, Senate Republicans led by Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, have unveiled new legislation that would extend the federal highway program for two years.
Sponsors of that bill (S. 1786), introduced Nov. 2, said the proposed Long-Term Surface Transportation Extension Act of 2011 would, among other things, fully fund continued highway and public transportation infrastructure, and provide regulatory relief from Environmental Protection Agency rules. The measure also includes reforms designed to accelerate infrastructure projects that sponsors say â€œare held back by what the presidentâ€™s own Jobs Council called regulatory â€˜red tape.â€™â€
FMC wants to hear why cargo is diverted to Canada, Mexico
The Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) has given interested parties until Dec. 22 to list factors they believe may cause U.S.-bound containerized cargo to be diverted from U.S. to Canadian and Mexican ports.
The commission has received requests from several Washington lawmakers to study the impacts and the extent to which the Harbor Maintenance Tax (HMT), and other U.S. policies and factors may encourage container cargo to shift from U.S. West Coast ports to those located in Canada and Mexico. The lawmakers also asked the commission to make legislative and regulatory recommendations to address their concerns.
In a notice of inquiry, the FMC said that in recent years, there has been an increase in the amount of U.S.-destined cargo moving through Prince Rupert, the newly established Canadian port, and the expanded Mexican Port of Lazaro Cardenas.
The commission also noted in its notice that cargo ultimately destined for U.S. inland points, but entering at Canadian or Mexican seaports, is not subject to the HMT.
The HMT, originally imposed on users of U.S. seaports at an ad valorem rate of 0.125 percent, is currently imposed only on imports and is payable at the time of unloading of the cargo at a U.S. port.
Comments may be e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org or mailed to Karen V. Gregory, Secretary, Federal Maritime Commission, 800 North Capitol St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20573-0001. Gregory may be reached at (202) 523-5725.
House approves Coast Guard authorization bill
The House voted Nov. 15 to approve H.R. 2838, the U.S. Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2011, a three-year authorization of the U.S. Coast Guardâ€™s budget.
The bill authorizes $8.5 billion for this fiscal year that began Oct. 1, $8.6 billion for FY 2013 and $8.7 billion for FY 2014. The measure also consolidates reporting requirements on Coast Guard acquisitions, mandates performance milestones prior to acquisition of new assets, and repeals out-of-date authorities deemed unnecessary by the Coast Guard.
Among other things, the bill includes provisions for a nationwide standard for the treatment of ballast water, ending the current patchwork of varying ballast water regulations across states.
More time sought to renew TWIC cards
Transportation Security Administrator John S. Pistole has been asked to give transportation and port workers more time to renew their Transportation Worker Identification Credentials (TWIC).
The request was made by Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.), ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee, and other Democratic members of the committee.
Thompsonâ€™s office said that while millions of workers spent time and money to obtain TWIC cards, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) failed to issue final regulations for the readers by April 2011, as required by law. Readers are digital scanners that automatically verify information on the TWIC cards.
â€œThe Democratic members of the committee believe that the department should not require these workers to renew their cards before the biometric security enhancements of TWIC are realized and the program has been fully implemented,â€ the office said.
Introduced last March, and still within the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, is H.R. 1105, which would extend each workerâ€™s renewal deadline until Dec. 31, 2014, or when DHS issues the final reader rule.
Bill seeks to reduce Missouri River flooding
Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) has introduced for himself and Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) a bill that would require the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to revise the Missouri River Mainstem Reservoir System Master Water Control Manual to ensure greater storage capacity to prevent serious downstream flooding.
The bill (S. 1795) requires the Corps to recalculate the allocation of the reservoir system so that, among other things, it is based on the space required to control the largest flood experienced in the system.
Government urged to consider economy before environment
Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-Ohio), chairman of the House Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee, urged the federal government Nov. 30 to pay more attention to the economy and less to the environment in its effort to improve the nationâ€™s employment picture.
In opening remarks at a hearing he held on assessing Missouri River management, Gibbs said that given the â€œsignificant economic benefits that come from investing in flood protection and navigation infrastructure, I believe the federal government should focus its U.S. Army Corps of Engineersâ€™ dollars on these activities and halt, for awhile, investing in environmental restoration projects that do not provide the long-term jobs we so desperately need right now.â€
Gibbs said that the Corps should not have to be deciding â€œwhich projects to rob to pay for levee repairs. We in Congress have got to do a better job of getting the Corps the money they need for these important life and property saving projects.â€
The congressman said, â€œwe should recapitalize the nationâ€™s flood damage reduction infrastructure,â€ and that â€œwe need to make policy changes to be sure that we are making the best investments of taxpayer dollars. At the same time, I believe local governments have got to make wise land use decisions in their communities that will keep homes and businesses out of harmâ€™s way.â€