Transportation Infrastructure and Supply Chain: Notes from the SFPC

May 26, 2022 | Surface Force Projection Conference

William (Bill) Paape, SES, Associate Administrator for Ports & Waterways, U.S. Department of Transportation, Maritime Administration led a discussion on the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and how it will improve ports and surface transportation during NDTA and Christopher Newport University’s Center for American Studies (CAS) Surface Force Projection Conference (SFPC). Joining Mr. Paape for the discussion were Vince Mantero, Director, Office of Ports and Waterways Planning; Branden Villalona, Director, South Atlantic Gateway Region; Brian Hill, Director, Western Gulf Gateway Region; and Gus Hein, Director, Mid-Pacific Gateway.

This session provided a wealth of information. Summaries and videos from the conference will be made available soon. In the meantime, here are notes on the key infrastructure and programs discussed and select Q&A from the session:

  • A review of the draft lines of effort from the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works identified many key areas of alignment with the Department of Transportation’s new Strategic Goals to include:
    • the Army’s “Building Climate Resilient Infrastructure” and DOT’s goal to “Build more Resilient and Sustainable Transportation Systems.”
    • the Army’s Investment in Science, Research, and Development to “Deliver enduring Water-Resource Solutions” aligns perfectly to DOT’s Transformation strategy to“Design for the Future by Investing in Purpose-Driven Research and Innovation” – to meet the challenges of the present, and modernize a transportation system of the future, that serves everyone today and, in the decades to come.
    • and, the Army’s “Upgrading of Waterways and Ports to Strengthen Supply Chains and Economic Growth” certainly aligns with the Department of Transportation’s “Economic Strength and Global Competitiveness Strategy” to invest in our transportation system to provide American workers and businesses reliable and efficient access to resources, markets, and good-paying jobs.
  • Last August, the White House announced in support of the Biden-Harris Administration Supply Chain Disruptions Task Force, the establishment of a Port Envoy position and appointed John Porcari. The Task Force was established last June to address supply and demand mismatches that emerged in several sectors as the economy reawakened following the Administration’s historic vaccination and economic relief efforts. Transportation Secretary Buttigieg leads the Task Force focus on ports and trucking issues. The Task Force’s leadership also includes Agriculture Secretary Vilsack on food and agriculture and Commerce Secretary Raimondo on homebuilding and semiconductors.
  • Over the past year, the federal agencies, including DOT, published their strategies in February of 2022. [These assessments are now available online to help guide the nation in developing resilient supply chains for the 21st Century.] The DOT also released a comprehensive report on the nation’s supply chains that recommended near and longer-term actions to further enhance fluidity through our supply chains.
  • Inland waterways are operating at a fraction of capacity and could assist in easing supply chain and congestion issues affecting other modes and impacting economic growth. By comparison, in 2018, the U.S. moved about 9.4% of freight, in ton-miles, by water.  Whereas in 2018 the European Union transported 34.2% of its freight by water.
  • In the height of the supply chain crisis last fall, we worked with the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach to develop a fee structure on ocean carriers to reduce the number of long-dwelling containers.
  • We’ve built unprecedented bridges, across federal and non-federal agencies, including with the Port of Oakland, the Port of Savannah, and our government partners, to create pop-up container yards connected to the ports to help get agricultural exports out and move imports in more quickly. In particular, the Georgia Ports Authority pop-up yards thru the end of April have moved over 30,900 TEUs.
  • We are also committed to improving data infrastructure throughout the supply chain, and the Biden-Harris Administration launched a new initiative to kick-start this effort. The Freight Logistics Optimization Works or “FLOW” program is an information sharing initiative to pilot key freight information exchange between parts of the goods movement supply chain. Data that would benefit all actors currently are not broadly shared across the supply chain. Improved data sharing could significantly improve supply chain fluidity.
  • Another project that we are completing with DOT’s Intelligent Transportation Systems – Joint Program Office or “ITS-JPO” is a project to develop Port Community System (PCS) Data Architecture Standards. The objective of a national data architecture standard for ports is to standardize how data is shared between ports and the many port stakeholders, and to increase use and efficiencies of Port Community Systems (PCS). We expect to release a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) soon and are monitoring various projects to ensure unity of effort (deconflict and compliment work) across the federal government. Standards analysis and standardization initiatives are ongoing with other Federal agencies to include the Federal Maritime Commission (FMC), the Surface Transportation Board (STB), the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS), and others.
  • The Maritime Administration’s is responsible for awarding $2.25 billion in funding appropriated by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to the Port Infrastructure Development Program or PIDP – roughly the same amount of money that has been invested in ports by DOT grant programs since the 2009 Recovery Act.
  • On February 23, 2022, Secretary Buttigieg announced the Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) for the first round of funding for PIDP provided by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.  This first round totals $450 million which, along with the appropriations passed by Congress, provides an additional $234 million dollars for the PIDP program, bringing the total amount of funding available this year to over $680 million for our Nation’s ports.
  • Additionally, on March 2, 2022, the Maritime Administration announced the availability of $25 million in new funding for the America’s Marine Highways program.  This funding—which is the largest single appropriation of funding in the program’s history—was also made possible by President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the appropriation passed by Congress provides another $14.8 million for the America’s Marine Highway program, bringing the total amount of funding available to almost $40 million.
  • Last December, through the (Marine Highway) program, we awarded $12.6 million in grants to nine marine highway projects across the Nation.
  • The America’s Marine Highway Program is thriving and now includes 52 Projects and 28 Routes.  Those routes encompass 41 states, the District of Columbia, and all five U.S. territories.

Q & A’s

Q:  Federal partnerships with strategic ports are critical. However, ports also have longstanding relationships and interactions at the local, regional, and statewide level. Can you provide some insight or advice on how ports can be better involved in planning at the non-Federal level?

  • The first that comes to mind is working with your State DOTs.
  • The FAST Act, the previous transportation reauthorization bill, authorized the National Highway Freight Program, a state formula funding program administered through FHWA (Federal Aid formula funding)
  • States can use up to 30% of their NHFP funds for intermodal projects, including ports and rail, an increase of 10% from the FAST Act.
  • The BIL also included a number of other requirements, though:
    • States are required to do State Freight Plans every four years. Previously, it was every 5 years.
    • These plans must include considerations of military freight as well as an inventory of commercial ports in the State.
    • Finally, States are encouraged to have Freight Advisory Committees consult on State Freight Plans and the required Freight Investment Plan.
    • These Advisory Committees include representatives from the public sector, as well as private sector representatives from the freight industry, including ports.
    • It’s important that ports are aware of these Committees to ensure they have a voice in how state program funding is allocated.
    • Several regional planning organizations also have their own active Freight Advisory Committee, many of which include ports. Participation in these committees is important, and our Gateway Directors can help make those connections if you haven’t already done so.

Q: What are some key takeaways regarding accessing these funds or other funding opportunities?

  • First, read the NOFO: requirements, documentation, deadline, etc. Each grant program will have its own set of priorities and guidelines published when a call for projects is issued.
  • Plan early: Ports can begin to develop eligible projects through planning efforts. The planning process gathers information that will be necessary for future grant applications, so once a call for projects is issued, ports can pull together a polished and robust application.
  • Identify needs: Ports should start to identify needs and develop potential projects through these planning efforts.
    • Each of the program offices are available to answer any questions. For example, my office manages America’s Marine Highway Program, and are available to answer any questions. The same for the PIDP program, and others.
    • My first suggestion would be talking to your respective Gateway Director.
    • They are there to assist you in answering many of those questions as well as serve as a liaison to other Federal agencies and program offices.
    • One example is working with FHWA’s Office of Federal Lands. They manage the Defense Access Road Program, which provides a means for the military to pay their share of the cost of public highway improvements.
    • Gateway Directors can help facilitate these discussions and also work with the DOT program offices to answer any questions regarding opportunities for funding.

Q: What are some actions taken by Houston and/or the State of Texas to help with port congestion issues there?

  • The state of Texas has given over $80 million to ports over the last four years for access road improvements to reduce wait times and emissions from congestion/idling. It has also created a fund to provide matching funds for channel deepening projects, and increased allowable trucker hours each day.
  • BNSF and the Port are testing a dedicated rail line from Port of Houston to bring containers to the Alliance Intermodal Yard near Dallas.
  • The Port of Houston is making many infrastructure improvements now, including widening port roads and expanding laydown areas in the container yards for storage.
  • The port received a $79 INFRA grant and several PIDP grants for wharf infrastructure improvements, and the port got itself designated as a Marine Highway Project to assist in efficiently handling containers-on-barge (Marine Highway Program).  Several other ports in Texas are doing so too.
  • Purchasing larger ship-to-shore cranes for quicker handling of larger container vessels that will be able to enter once the Deepening and Widening of the Houston Ship Channel is completed soon.
  • Port of Corpus Christi: Port Corpus Christi is in the midst of a 10-year $1 billion capital expenditure program involving infrastructure updates, including docks, rail, and highway connections. Its recently completed Nueces River Rail Yard accommodates staging of multiple full unit trains.  The new Corpus Christi Harbor Bridge is under construction.  This new entrance to the Port Corpus Christi Inner Harbor will provide a 205’ clearance for larger vessels.  Channel being deepened.
  • Port of Beaumont: The Port of Beaumont is constructing a $80+ million dock facility that will be capable of loading and unloading supersized vessels. The project will feature better access roads and pipeline connectivity.  (Sabine Neches Channel deepening).
  • Port of Port Arthur: Thousands of feet of dock and rail expansion and more pipelines.  (Sabine Neches Channel deepening).

Q: Any Modernization plans?

  • Port of Houston, with private partners, is evaluating unique transportation systems, including a possible driverless monorail system to take containers to outside-the-port laydown areas.
  • Several Texas ports are planning for electrification of wharfs and increasing automated equipment that are not diesel powered.
  • LNG Bunkering is coming to several Texas ports in the next year
  • More efficient use of truck gates and queuing
  • Ports dedicated to Net Zero emissions by 2050

Q: Can you talk about the infrastructure nexus between climate change resiliency planning and supply chain resiliency measures?

  • The trick here is to work with our ports to advance resiliency planning into reality.  FEMA has their Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) program, providing studies, research, multiple definitions, and I believe funding resources for planning.  Our friends at EPA have an excellent Ports Initiative with an abundance of port specific literature, case studies.  With access to this type of information, we are able to guide ports through the PIDP and Marine Highway funding programs, which are well suited to this endeavor.
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