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Port Report Calls for More ‘Multimodal’ Funding

The third of a series of freight reports sponsored by the American Association of Port Authorities "identifies" more than $20 billion in projected multimodal port and rail access projects that will be needed to handle higher freight volumes over the next decade.

The report – entitled The State of Freight III – is based in part on a survey of AAPA members, the group said. That poll found that 67 percent of ports report that "funding and financing" options are the biggest initial obstacles in getting port rail access projects started, with 37 percent noting that "problematic at-grade crossings" or "height-restricted overpasses and tunnels" within or near ports currently constrain capacity, while 36 percent emphasized that land acquisition is becoming a "big problem" in developing and planning port rail access projects.

"As a key component of America's supply chain and a major facilitator for trade, seaports rely on a host of transportation modes and nodes, including roads, rails, waterways, tunnels and overpasses, to move large volumes of cargo, which may be headed to, or originating from, manufacturing, distribution, assembly and processing centers that support economic growth and millions of U.S. jobs," noted AAPA President and CEO Kurt Nagle, in a statement.

Further, a third of ports have identified pressing rail project needs that cost more than $50 million. In fact, AAPA said rail access is so important to the port industry that within the next ten years, 77 percent of ports said they are planning on-dock, near-dock or rail access projects.

"Our nation's ports have identified a vast array of projects which are ready for investment and could move forward if the issues in this report could be addressed," he added. "It's important that steps be taken to resolve the barriers identified in this report that are preventing these projects from progressing."

The U.S. Maritime Administration said that there are more than 300 ports in the U.S. operated by states, counties, municipalities, private corporations, or a combination thereof, with many of them "complex entities" interconnecting several transport modes such as water, rail, road, and even air.

The AAPA report argues that while the Fixing America's Surface Transportation (FAST) Act of 2015 "has been essential" in providing the building blocks for a national freight program, more must be done to ensure that multimodal projects have adequate resources to leverage timely, efficient results – especially when it comes to seaport infrastructure.

The report said the FAST Act's balanced approach of formula and discretionary funding is "ideal" but "also must ensure that access to funds is not hampered by unnecessary or complicated requirements or limited funding."

For example, of the $11 billion authorized in the FAST Act for freight investment, only $1.13 billion was eligible for multimodal projects, AAPA's research found – and that amount dwindled to $275 million after several rounds of FASTLANE and Infra Grants have been awarded.

Multimodal funding has taken on a "greater relevance" in recent years, the group stressed, because of "seismic population shifts" to metropolitan areas where many ports are located.

"Additionally, port projects are becoming more complex, integrating freight flow demands with passenger needs on both the highway and rail networks," the report noted.

"Increasingly, multimodal funding has been used to connect rail not only to ports but also to distribution centers in the hinterlands. And multimodal funding has also been used for projects on marine terminals in instances where funding isn't readily available under highway trust fund criteria," it said. "Because seaports represent a vital economic engine of our national economy, meeting the multimodal needs of U.S. ports is the foundation for allowing the nation to reach its full economic potential."