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Using US Waterways to Ease Highway Congestion

The Department of Transportation (DOT) is putting some funding where its mouth has been in seeking to establish a new national network of “Marine Highways” to help cut traffic on some of the nation’s most crowded roads.

This initiative was announced by Vice Admiral Thomas J. Barrett, USCG (Ret.), Deputy Secretary of Transportation, during a visit to the James River Barge Line in Norfolk, VA. With a new service, the barge company will move cargo up the James River to Richmond, VA taking what DOT says is 4,000 truckloads of freight off I-64 and putting them onto the water.

The governmental effort seeks to select and designate key inland and coastal maritime corridors. These Marine Highways will be eligible for as much as $25 million in existing federal capital construction funds. The Admiral pointed out that these communities would qualify for federal highway congestion mitigation and air quality funds that total $1.7 billion.

In discussing the Marine Highway program, Deputy Secretary Barrett claimed, “This initiative does more than simply add new lines to a map. It makes our roads safer, expands our capacity for moving goods and reflects the kind of 21st Century innovation we are going to need to be competitive in today’s global marketplace.”

In the Register notice, DOT claims, “Over the next 15 years, experts project that cargoes moving through our ports will nearly double…Most of this additional cargo will ultimately move along our surface transportation corridors, many of which are already at or beyond capacity. Since 92% of all domestic freight currently moves on road and rail infrastructure, the implications of this growth are significant…The challenge we face is to use all transportation modes available to address the looming crisis. America’s Marine Highway can be a viable alternative transportation mode.”

Admiral Barrett reinforces this view. “These highways have no stoplights, traffic or potholes. Sometimes transportation solutions require new concrete, but other times the answer is as simple as using existing water,” he says.

An interim final rule regarding the Marine Highways Corridor initiative was posted in the Federal Register, Vol. 73, No. 197. The rule will go into effect after a 120-day comment period.

The issue is open for comments. Enter the phrase Marine Highway at

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