Short-Sea Shipping Gets New Name and New Focus from MARAD and Congress

In the first few weeks of his tenure as the U.S. Maritime Administration’s Administrator, Sean Connaughton made it clear that he intended to give short-sea shipping the attention it deserved and the means to push it forward; in part to relieve congestion on the nation’s highways. He also told MarEx last October that he intended to rename the initiative to give it more visibility.

Last Thursday, at a hearing of the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation subcommittee of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, federal officials and commercial executives promised to give “America’s Marine Highway” more than lip service. Conaughton told a receptive audience that “I believe this term more accurately describes the nation’s waterborne transportation system and the promise of its extensive capacity.”

According to MARAD, “water transportation, especially along our coasts and inland waterways is a sensible, economical, and environmentally friendly solution to many of our growing congestion problems.” The initiative translates into investing into the marine highway system to facilitate the integration of waterborne transportation into the nation's transportation system.

MARAD defines “America’s Marine Highway” as “an Initiative encompassing commercial waterborne transportation which does not transit an ocean. It is an alternative form of commercial transportation that utilizes inland, coastal waterways and our Great Lakes to move commercial freight from one destination to another.” MARAD also hopes that cooperative agreements with NAFTA partners Canada and Mexico will help to mitigate border congestion with these neighbors. MARAD says that these agreements are considered part of America’s Marine Highway Initiative.

The ideas are not new, but the renewed enthusiasm gives hope to the Department of Transportation where DOT Secretary Mary Peters, a long-time expert on highway matters, hopes to team with Connaughton on reducing road congestion while pumping up water-based commerce. On Thursday, lawmakers appeared ready to back up that enthusiasm with new legislation to jumpstart the process. Connaughton himself verified that short-sea shipping was among the administration’s top priorities and that specific proposals would be presented to Congress to further that goal.