Following Up on the Funding Trail

By Candace Gibson


There are many reasons a port seeks funding for improvement projects. Perhaps its highway arteries are clogged, its warehouses are in need of repair, or its space is maxed out – and tenants want more. Everyday use and time take a toll on a port, and while there are budgets for necessary upkeep, to invest earnestly in improvement projects is another matter entirely.

Capital for port expansion and freight projects is difficult to secure. Federal dollars aren’t always a reliable source for ports; in recent years, a significant amount of federal money going to ports was dedicated to the specific purpose of channel deepening. Ships are getting bigger, and the U.S. is catching up with the rest of the world berthing ships and bringing them into port. That money aside, when a port sets its sights on other initiatives, the onus is on the port to find the funds. In addition to FASTLANE and TIGER grants, there are other ways to source money. Port of Vancouver USA, Philadelphia Regional Port Authority and ProvPort in Providence, RI, all have success stories to share about securing funds.

The West Vancouver Freight Access Project (WVFA) at Port of Vancouver USA has been a decades-long effort to ameliorate congestion by improving rail infrastructure. Funding for the $275 million project has been sourced from federal and state grants, as well as port tenants and BNSF Railway. The port itself contributed 71 percent of the funds through revenue generated by operations, revenue bonds and general obligation bonds. Abbi Russell, Communications Manager, says, “When you have a need, you gather your partners and your messages. Go out and look for those opportunities. The money is out there if you tell a really good story.”

Getting this monumental project funded fully is certainly proof of that. Monty Edberg, Director of Engineering, points out that the mutually beneficial results of rail infrastructure improvement made for the most compelling story. What he describes as a “bottleneck in the system” affected both port tenants and people using the railroad mainline. In order to fix the bottleneck, the Washington State Department of Transportation, the City of Vancouver, BNSF and the private developer Columbia Waterfront LLC collaborated. “There was a lot of interdependency,” Edberg says. “All partners needed to work together to get results.” The improvements benefited the port – nearly tripling capacity for rail cars is a major win – and the community has benefited, too, with new commercial developments, residential areas and park spaces and trails. …

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