U.S. Maritime Administration heads initiatives aimed at improving infrastructure and education

Though it initially sounds a bit strange, the best solution to unclogging road commerce congestion caused by massive trucks and shipping vehicles is to encourage businesses to take cargo to the highway.

The marine highway, that is.

In 2007, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration established the America’s Marine Highway Program as part of the “Energy Independence and Security Act.” In the near-decade since the initiative passed, the program has promoted increased maritime commerce and improved the infrastructure along the country’s more than 25,000 nautical miles of navigable waterways – everything from the Mississippi River to bays, channels, the Great Lakes and the Saint Lawrence Seaway System.

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In many instances, commercial marine transportation is the most efficient, effective and environmentally sustainable shipping option for companies  —  the reason why the Maritime Administration continues to push for its increased integration into the U.S. surface transportation system.

In that spirit, the Maritime Administration announced $4.85 million in grants in October 2016 spread across six Marine Highway projects, including the vital stretch of the Mississippi River in South Louisiana between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. The Louisiana-based project – which offers a waterway alternative to collect and move shipping containers from Memphis, Tennessee to Baton Rouge and ultimately to New Orleans, that would normally go back and forth via rail or road – received more than one-third of the total grant’s funding.

“It is essential that we invest in integrated, multi-modal transportation systems that support the efficient movement of freight and people throughout this country,” said Maritime Administrator Paul “Chip” Jaenichen. “Our nation’s extensive network of waterways and domestic seaports provide an opportunity to help stimulate economic growth while reducing congestion on our national freight transportation system.”

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Beyond updating marine highway operations in the six designated parts of the country, funding was also provided to spark a demonstration project between St. Louis and Chicago, as well as support a feasibility study of commuter ferry services between Northern Virginia and Washington, D.C., plus a Container-on-Barge service that basically runs the entire length of the Mississippi River – from Minnesota to Louisiana.

“These grants will help us take advantage of the economic and environmental benefits of one of America’s most crucial transportation assets — our coastal and inland waterways,” said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.

In addition to securing and advancing the country’s waterborne infrastructure, the Maritime Administration also outfits many companies and agencies with the manpower to operate these vessels and shipping stations, thanks to its maritime education program. The Maritime Administration operates the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, one of five federal service academies — U.S. Military Academy at West Point, U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis — at which midshipmen learn various phases of efficient merchant fleet operation in times of both peace and war. During the global unrest, the U.S. Merchant Marines serve as the “fourth arm of defense,” saddled with delivering troops, military equipment and supplies overseas.

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The Maritime Administration also partially funds six state educational facilities that don’t require years of service after graduation (unlike the Merchant Marine Academy) to ensure mariners receive the latest training and safety measures available. More specifically, the Maritime Administration provides the training vessels to these academies (located in California, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York and Texas) so that officers-to-be can get hands-on experience in both at-sea training and shore-side labs. To make this state academy training more economically feasible for at-need candidates, the Maritime Administration’s Student Incentive Payment Program awards funding for tuition, academic incidentals like uniforms and books, plus cost-of-living expenses in exchange for a military service commitment upon completion.

By William Kalec

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