Seeking to move cargo while cutting congestion on the nation’s highways, the U.S. Dept. of Transportation (DOT) has called for a “Marine Highway” initiative that will designate maritime inland and coastal maritime corridors as marine highways. DOT has published an interim final rule currently available for review, which is on schedule to go into effect after a 120-day comment period.
“This initiative does more than simply add new lines to a map,” said Dept. Secretary of Transportation Thomas Barrett. “It makes our roads safer, expands our capacity for moving goods and reflects the kind of 21st century innovation we are going to need to be competitive in today’s global marketplace.”
Approved routes will be eligible for up to $25 million in existing federal capital construction funds and will also qualify for up to $1.7 billion in federal highway congestion mitigation and air quality (CMAQ) funds, DOT said.
“These highways have no stoplights, traffic or potholes,” said Barrett. “Sometimes transportation solutions require new concrete, but other times the answer is as simple as using existing water.”
The Dept. of Transportation estimates that congestion on U.S. roads, bridges, railways and at ports costs the country up to $200 billion each year, a number certain to rise as increasing trade will hamper the capability to move freight through the already strained transportation network, the interim final rule said.
According to the Federal Highway Administration, cargo moving through U.S. ports will nearly double over the next 15 years. “Most of this additional cargo will ultimately move along our surface transportation corridors, many of which are already at or beyond capacity,” the report said. “Since 92% of all domestic freight currently moves on road and rail infrastructure, the implications of this growth are significant. The challenge we face is to use all transportation modes available to address the looming crisis.”
The interim final rule claims that a marine highway would be cost effective, as it would require less new infrastructure than surface transportation alternatives while still having “considerable room to grow.” Instead of replacing truck freight, it refers to maritime options as “extensions of the surface transportation system.”
For example, the report states that a container-on-barge operation currently running between Baltimore and Norfolk, VA relieves the I-95 and I-64 corridors of almost 2,000 trucks per week, equal to three lanes of bumper-to-bumper trucks eight miles long while using about 1/8th the fuel.
The interim final rule continues that the Marine Highway runs parallel to some of the most congested corridors in the country, and the designation of waterways along them as Marine Highway Corridors could “reduce congestion, pollution, and energy usage, increase freight system reliability, and improve the life of citizens who live in proximity to the highway.”
According to DOT, the designation of Marine Highway Corridors and Marine Highway Projects will not have an immediate environmental impact, but the use of coastwise vessels should relieve congestion on highways and therefore ensure any overall impact should be positive.