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CRS report unenthusiastic about marine highways program

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crslogoA Congressional Research Service specialist in transportation policy looks to be less than enthusiastic about marine highways. He’s John Fritelli and is the author of a recent CRS report entitled “Can Marine Highways Deliver?”

Marine highways is a term used to designate short sea shipping routes that could take traffic off regular highways, thereby reducing congestion and pollution. It’s a politically marketable notion that has, thus far, gotten several water routes selected by DOT as marine highways, supported by some $80 million in grants.To be eligible, a marine highway must be an alternative to a congested highway or railroad and be financially viable in a reasonable time frame.

With a new Congress looking to cut spending, it is probable that the marine highways program will come in for renewed attention. Mr. Fritelli’s report won’t do much to help keep the fiscal spigot open.

The summary of the report says, in part:

A review of the successes and failures of the few marine highway services currently operating in the contiguous United States, as well as those that have failed in the past, indicates that the potential market is limited. In many instances, marine highways have succeeded in capturing only a negligible share of container shipments along a given route. One can question, therefore, whether marine highways will divert enough trucks to provide public benefits commensurate with their costs. Congress may also consider repealing a port use charge, the harbor maintenance tax, for containerized domestic shipments as a means of spurring marine highway development.

Repealing the tax raises equity issues because waterway users already benefit from reduced federal user charges compared to trucks, and their other competitor, the railroads, are largely selffinanced.

The Jones Act is arguably another potential statutory hindrance to marine highway development, particularly coastal highways. This act requires that all domestic shipping be carried in U.S. built ships. Critics claim the act raises the cost of domestic shipping to such a degree that it cannot compete with truck and rail.

You can access the full report HERE

January 28, 2011

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