REMARKS AS PREPARED
MISSISSIPPI MAYORS RIVERS CITIES & TOWNS INITIATIVE
“THE RIVER RUNS THROUGH US”
220 E. 3RD ST.
ROCK ISLAND, IL
SEPT. 19, 2018
Thank you for that introduction. On behalf of U.S. department of transportation secretary elaine l. Chao and my boss, maritime administrator mark Buzby, I thank you for inviting me to be a part of today’s events.
At the maritime administration, we recognize that this region constitutes a very strategic and sophisticated complex of integrated, interactive ports, multi-modal connectors, and productive, heavily trafficked waterways along the Mississippi River.
Billions of dollars in cargo are shipped on barges on U.S. inland waterways each year, and this region constitutes a lion’s share of that.
The Mississippi River watershed covers 41 percent of the country — encompassing 31 states and 250 tributaries – a truly enormous section of the country.
This critical transportation artery – also known as the M-55 Marine Highway – brings life, jobs, commerce, and resources to dozens of communities and nourishes the regional economy across multiple states. The potential impact of this national maritime asset – and its as yet unrealized bandwidth and carrying capacity — cannot be overemphasized.
Especially given the fact that containerized freight volumes will only increase with our growing population – and that our landside roads and highways are already heavily congested.
Our nation’s marine highways are really the only remaining “surface mode” of transportation capable of absorbing this excess freight volume.
The bottom line is that this region is rich in maritime assets that have enormous potential and, like most of our nation’s maritime resources, are as yet are vastly underutilized. All of us at MARAD recognize that — and want to see you succeed.
It’s one of the reasons we now have three inland waterways gateway offices along the Mississippi River– our office in New Orleans, St. Louis and the gateway office we just recently opened in Paducah, Kentucky.
Simply put, the primary goals of our inland gateway offices are to promote and facilitate maximum port and maritime stakeholder engagement in the inland waterways region.
We want close, interactive engagement between MARAD’s offices and the inland marine transportation system that strengthens both planning and collaboration – and that includes all inland ports and maritime stakeholders.
It’s part of a multi-tiered, interconnected, multi-modal approach to championing your projects and assisting you with modernizing and expanding your maritime transportation network.
We want to help our stakeholders in this part of the country establish the Inland Marine Transportation System as an integral component of the Nation’s Maritime Transportation System.
And to make ensure that our efforts here are in sync and complimentary with our efforts elsewhere. We accomplish this by providing tools, advice and assistance to ensure cohesion and unity of effort regionally and nationally.
Part of this work includes helping our partners identify, apply for, and acquire funding needed to develop inland waterways and ports as compatible extensions of the nation’s landside infrastructure.
We have an array of federal assistance funds and grant and loan programs available. And we can help our partners submit quality applications for these funds that meet what can be very complex eligibility requirements.
Application for funding often fail simply because it’s incomplete, or neglects to address certain fine details and requirements. That’s where we come in.
Our gateway offices can help stakeholders navigate the fine print of USDOT and MARAD funding programs. And then educate and empower them to submit quality applications.
Being designated a marine highway project, for instance, allows department of transportation resources to be used to assist public sponsors, ports, and other local transportation or economic development agencies to develop their marine highway projects.
A classic container on barge project meets our criteria because it enhances and relieves pressure from the national transportation system.
It lowers regional transportation costs, reduces traffic congestion, slows highway wear and tear and reduces air pollution. It also enhances economic growth and vitality throughout a region by opening up new markets helping existing markets expand.
Container on barge and America’s marine highways program
Through its office of ports & waterway planning, MARAD advocates for greater use of container on barge services for all of these reasons. The program currently has 23 designated projects with several more in the approval process.
An excellent example of how we are working with the mayors of MRCTI is our recent partnership with Mayor Craft of Vidalia, Louisiana to bring container on barge services to Vidalia and Natchez, Mississippi. Our gateway director in New Orleans noticed an announcement for a graphite producing company named Syrah that recently decided to build a new plant in Vidalia.
He mentioned that all of their containerized product would be flowing through the port of New Orleans.
MARAD recognized the potential to expand the existing New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Memphis marine highway service, and worked with mayor Craft to bring a waterborne solution to Syrah and expand river commerce in Vidalia.
In these cases, MARAD can award and manage discretionary grants designed to alleviate capital risk for such start-ups, especially since Vidalia is already part of a designated marine highway project. Our team was just in Vidalia last week meeting with Syrah to discuss the details of their transportation needs and how we can use the river to serve their needs.
To help expand existing marine highway services and initiate new ones, the Transportation Secretary recently announced six new marine highway grants including two along the inland waterway system in Paducah and New Orleans which will both greatly enhance freight movement on the Mississippi River.
Our next round of marine highway grants is also currently published in the federal register and will close on October 5, 2018. We are hoping to receive some good applications from designated marine highway projects.
Our Office of Ports & Waterways planning also provides tools and workshops to assist ports, shippers, service operators and other stakeholders understand and develop marine highway services as cost competitive and routine options for U.S. shippers.
The office assists in getting designated marine highway routes included in state and regional transportation planning — often a requirement for approval.
And to further improve and expand commerce on the Mississippi River, both the “better utilizing investment to leverage development,” or “build,” as well as “infra” discretionary grant programs offer excellent opportunities for river ports.
Ports and port authorities can apply for grants to improve intermodal connectivity, resiliency, and efficiency by updating and modernizing their infrastructure.
The U.S. Department of Transportation recently released a notice of funding opportunity for the FY 2018 “BUILD” program — formerly known as the TIGER grant program. The $1.5 billion in available funds is three (3) times the historical average. So our portfolio of resources is growing.
The most important part of any marine highway service are the customers it serves — and that’s who you represent. Once the port has the equipment in place and the operator is ready to go, having the commitment of freight from the manufacturers in the region will be the key to its ultimate success.
And our partnership with you can help make that a reality. Our gateway officers are here to help facilitate those relationships between the port, operators, and shippers to ensure the success of these services and river transportation regionally.
We are more than eager to prime that pump and energize discussions with shippers, so that they can wisely choose marine highway options for their products.
The Mississippi River corridor is not just a hub for freight but also for inland waterway operators, shipyards and shipping repair facilities.
So, ensuring that vibrant ship repair facilities are available and competitive along our inland waterways is vitally important for reliable and sustainable growth of commerce on the inland waterways system.
MARAD recently announced the award of a $1.1 million small shipyard grant to Walker Boat Yard in Paducah for a new 80-ton crane. That’s just one example of the kinds of diverse investments we’re making in this region’s maritime industry.
Maritime infrastructure is another huge area of concern.
Locks and dams will continue to play an important role in the viability and growth of waterways traffic.
The lock system in this part of the country ranges in age from the youngest at Montgomery point on the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River System to the oldest lock at Willamette Falls on the Willamette River, which was built in 1873.
Many of the 25 locks along the Mississippi are operating either well beyond their planned life expectancy or below expected performance with frequent and sometimes lengthy lock closures.
The administration’s infrastructure plan intends to focus on rebuilding our locks and dams to support the movement of freight on our waterways into the 22nd century.
Again, we will do everything in our power to assist you. I encourage you to collaborate with us to ensure that no opportunity is overlooked.
Our nation’s greatness has always been grounded in our maritime industry. That industry has always depended on innovation, education, and a highly skilled workforce. It has also been predicated on visionary, intelligent leadership like we’re seeing coming out of the Mississippi River cities and towns.
Marine transportation is critical to our nation’s future, and forward-thinking leaders like those gathered here today are leading the way. So, keep up the great work. We look forward to working with you all.