Port Infrastructure Funding

Aug 1, 2018 | Defense Transportation Journal

Infrastructure investments in America’s seaports and their intermodal connections—both on the land and in the water—provide opportunities to bolster our economy, create and sustain jobs, enhance our international competitiveness and pay annual dividends. Yet, despite the national significance of ports most port-related investments are limited to state or local appropriations. If there are multiple ports within a state, they often compete for the same funding resources if any funding programs exist at all.

Grants, like the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) competitive grant program, have represented the primary source of federal port investment. The Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act of 2015 created a national freight program with a $4.5 billion competitive grant program to fund eligible port-related projects. The Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA) of 2014 also authorized port-related projects, however authorized projects were often left unappropriated in the federal appropriations cycle.

The federal Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF), designed to pay for dredging in harbors collects its revenue through a user fee on the value of the cargo in imported containers. Despite the significant dredging needs at the majority of US ports, the fund’s balance has often been used for other purposes including federal deficit offsets and as a result has not been appropriated for its designated purpose.

To provide adequate resources for three key federal programs that help fund multimodal port-related infrastructure in the US, the American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA) recently sent a letter to the leadership of both the House and Senate Appropriations Committees’ Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development and Related Agencies (THUD) advocating for dedicated funding for port infrastructure in the final Fiscal Year (FY) 2019 US Department of Transportation (DOT) Spending Bill.

The letter commends the subcommittees’ leadership on their commitment to fund multimodal port infrastructure, such as the first/last mile connections such as roads, rails, bridges, tunnels and waterways with America’s seaports. It also strongly recommends they adopt the House provision that a third of the funding for the portion of the National Infrastructure Investment Program focusing on multimodal BUILD/TIGER-style projects be dedicated to port infrastructure projects.

“Because dedicated multimodal infrastructure funding for ports is one of AAPA’s top priorities, we particularly appreciate House THUD Subcommittee Chairman Mario Díaz-Balart making it a priority in his bill,” said AAPA President and CEO Kurt Nagle. “AAPA members have consistently advocated for increased BUILD/TIGER funding levels. We heartily supported Chairman Díaz-Balart when he successfully championed 33 percent funding for port infrastructure projects in the House USDOT appropriations bill, and we hope to see that funding level in the final compromise bill.”

AAPA is advocating that the fiscal 2019 BUILD (Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development) program adopt the Senate funding level of $1 billion, or if possible, the fiscal 2018 level of $1.5 billion. AAPA members have identified $32 billion in needed federal investments in port landside connections and facility infrastructure.

For the Marine Highway Program, AAPA strongly supports the $7 million of funding in the Senate bill because the program provides US ports and communities an important option for using ocean and inland waterways to reduce highway congestion.

The third program identified as a priority in AAPA’s letter is the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements (CRISI) program. AAPA recommends the House funding level of $300 million for CRISI grants because of the port rail access eligibilities the program provides and the opportunities it offers for strong rail and port partnerships.

Cargo activities at America’s seaports are significant drivers of the US economy, supporting more than 23 million American jobs and generating over $320 billion in annual federal, state and local taxes. All but one percent of the nation’s overseas trade moves through its maritime facilities, and US seaport cargo activities account for more than one-quarter of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product. As such an important driver of the economy, ensuring the funding of port infrastructure projects should be a priority for all.

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