Coming Down the Pike: Government is onboard with supply chain investment

Secretary Buttigieg meets dockworkers at the Port of Charleston

LONG BEACH, October 18   US ports large and small are beginning to reap the benefits of government attention as officials at all levels – federal, state and local – start allocating funds to improve the nation’s supply chain system, trucking included.

“Our nation’s ports are vital to our supply chains and economic growth,” Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg said on a visit to Charleston, South Carolina, home to one of the country’s top ten ports. 

“When we invest in port infrastructure like what I’m seeing today in South Carolina, it’s an investment in the American people and our future,” Mr Buttigieg said.

His statement follows awards of $1.5 billion that the Department of Transportation recently has announced from the Infrastructure for Rebuilding America competitive grant program.

Grants benefit trucking

In West Central Florida, for example, USDOT is investing in the I-4 West Central Florida Truck Parking Facility, a project aimed at easing the shortage of commercial truck parking between Port Tampa Bay and Orlando, a corridor that averages 18,000 trucks a day.

Across the country in San Diego, California, USDOT is investing in the construction of a new road – to be called State Route 11 – and a Port of Entry facility at the Otay Mesa crossing between Mexico and the US, one of the busiest in the country. 

“The project facilitates freight movement across borders with destinations at nearby distribution centers and warehouses, the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, and the Inland Empire’s mega-distribution centers in Riverside and San Bernardino counties,” USDOT said.

The Port of San Diego also is the recipient of a $5.6 million federal award under the America’s Marine Highway Grants that will help pay for infrastructure upgrades that will be deployed at the port to handle cargo on the M-5 Coastal Connector.

USDOT said that service will use a barge to move “building materials, including lumber, as well as containers and general cargo” along the Pacific Coast, from San Diego to ports in the Pacific Northwest. 

New York benefits

The Port of New York & New Jersey, the nation’s third busiest, also just received a $5.2m grant under the Marine Highway program to boost barge traffic by upgrading six landings in New York Harbor.

“Each of these sites contains appropriate upland conditions necessary for the conveyance of ‘last-mile’ goods to local destinations but lacks the necessary landing infrastructure to dock watercraft and move cargo to staging areas and roadways for delivery,” USDOT said.

Further upstate, the Port of Oswego, New York, secured a $754,000 Marine Highways Grant to purchase a new low-emission reach stacker which will enable “a more resilient transportation system” according to US Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, who backed the port’s grant application.

California weighs in

California Governor Gavin Newsom underlined the welcome political trend: “After decades of neglect, we are finally making the critical investments needed to modernize our ports – helping us to keep up with demand in a way that is environmentally sustainable and brings our distribution process into the 21st Century.” 

Mr Newsom’s statement came as the California State Transportation Agency issued final guidelines and a call for projects for the $1.2bn in state funding for port and freight infrastructure projects that he authorized in October 2021.

Some 70% of the program’s funding will go to projects that support goods movement through the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach while 30% will fund ports and goods movement infrastructure in the rest of the state, Mr Newsom’s office said in a statement.

Still, some other ports around the country are betting that the tsunami of cargo passing through the nation’s gateways is only going to swell in size over time, and they want a future a role in moving it. 

Don’t forget Coos Bay

Consider the ambitions of Coos Bay, a town of 16,000 people tucked away on the coast of Oregon in the Pacific Northwest.

Port of Coos Bay chief executive John Burns said his facility, which has a 37-ft shipping channel, can already handle ships of up to 6,000 teu in capacity. But he wants a 45-ft deep channel to allow passage of 11,000 teu ships and throughput of 1m containers a year.

“We have submitted an application with the federal government to help us fund the construction of this project and we have almost 100 letters of support that vary everywhere from the West Coast to the East Coast, North and South and everything in between that you can imagine,” Mr Burns said.

The political support is there, too, including US Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon: “we do not have enough port capacity on the West Coast. It has been a huge part of our supply chain challenge, and this project would increase that West Coast capacity by 10%.”

The surge in cargo over the past two years has gotten everybody thinking, and they’re all thinking alike: more cargo is coming and going than ever before, and they want to be ready for it.

Photo: Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg meets dockworkers at the Port of Charleston. Credit: English Purcell/SCPA