There is no shortage of stimulus package funding proposals floating around these days. Just about everyone is extending a rice bowl with a story about how their pet project would be instrumental in creating jobs and contributing to the economy.
While some of these claims are more dubious than others, investing in short sea shipping, or coastal shipping, to transport domestic freight is a no-brainer because it offers the nation a “threefer” – it is good for the economy because it will reduce congestion while creating new jobs on the waterfront, good for the environment because of greenhouse gas reductions it will help make in the transportation sector, and so far an under-appreciated benefit, it will add a desperately needed layer of resiliency to crumbling land-side infrastructure.
Coastal shipping looks all the better in the wake of last week’s American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) report card that gave American infrastructure a shoddy D.
The ASCE estimates the total investment needed to fix this mess will be $2.2 trillion over five years. Roads got a D- (where D is “poor” and F is “failing”) with the following description: “Americans spend 4.2 billion hours a year stuck in traffic at a cost to the economy of $78.2 billion, or $710 per motorist. Poor road conditions cost motorists $67 billion a year in repairs and operating costs, and cost 14,000 Americans their lives. One-third of America’s major roads are in poor or mediocre condition and 36% of major urban highways are congested.”
We need not look further than the Minneapolis bridge collapse, frequent accidents that paralyze major interstate arteries, or daily gridlock on roads and bridges that cannot support today’s traffic much less forecasted increases without it becoming obvious that the nation’s transportation system is near paralysis.
This is our Eisenhower highway system moment, an opportunity to invest in a national transportation project that also yields extraordinary economic rewards.
Coastal shipping is a relatively low coast, easy to implement piece of a potential solution. Financing waterway projects will be pennies on the dollar cheaper than more expensive highway projects, and as presented in the timely report America’s Deep Blue Highway: How Coastal Shipping Could Reduce Traffic Congestion, Lower Pollution, and Bolster National Security published by the Institute for Global Maritime Studies, coastal shipping also has strategic homeland security benefits too because it can also help the US recover from a natural disaster, accident, or terrorist incident.
Coastal shipping should be thought of in a preparedness and recovery context. Similar to the maritime evacuation of Manhattan on 9/11, an American Dunkirk, or how coastal shipping helped get the Gulf coast going again after Katrina (after the Jones Act was temporarily suspended), rebuilding America’s maritime infrastructure would bring intangible yet critically valuable security benefits.
Rejuvenating coastal shipping – today the United States ships a paltry 2% percent of domestic freight by sea compared to more than 40% on European “motorways of the sea” – would also allow for moving hazardous cargoes away from vulnerable land-side transportation nodes and population centers. From a historical perspective, looking to the sea would be going back to the future for a country founded on fast and easy shipping along its seaboard.
There is a strong security imperative to include coastal shipping in the stimulus package. Only $150 million of federal funds is needed to jump start coastal shipping in ports “shovel ready” for this activity, a paltry figure when compared to other stimulus measures such as the $200 million slated for revitalizing the National Mall or the $650 million more for digital television conversion (this on top of the already billions spent on this effort).
Federal dollars invested into coastal shipping would generate jobs on the waterfront, “green” our infrastructure, and important for the readers of this page, make our transportation system more resilient.
The next time you’re stuck in traffic on your daily commute, think about how coastal shipping can help get you moving again, help make the air you breather cleaner, and all with the added benefit of also keeping you safer.