Financing projects for ports requires multiple stakeholders from the public and private sectors to work together using a diverse combination of resources.
By Barry Parker
Securing grants is one of the optimum ways to finance port projects. And there are a lot out there with just that purpose. However, knowing what’s available and having the know-how and personnel who can fulfill all of the requirements needed to secure them is a challenge almost more daunting that the project itself.
Grants are available through some well-known sources, especially at the federal level, but also from providers who may be off the main radar screen. On the federal level, 75 potential federal initiatives were identified in a 2019 compendium of potential sources for maritime infrastructure funding produced by the U.S. Committee on the Marine Transportation System (CMTS), a group comprised of more than 25 federal departments, agencies and bureaus. When state and regional initiatives are considered as well as discretionary grants, the list of sources grows. A few examples here show the panoply of federal programs, with port projects also seeing funding from other grantors.
The Port Infrastructure Development Program (PIDP), launched in late 2019, is managed through the U.S. Maritime Administration (MARAD), an arm of the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT). Recipients of an aggregate $280 million of PIDP awards announced in early 2020 include the Port of Cleveland, which will use an $11 million grant to rehabilitate two cargo docks at the port on Lake Erie. David Gotheil, chief commercial officer at the port, said, “The Port of Cleveland has been very successful in securing grants at both the federal and state levels during the past budget cycles. These grant funds have enabled the port to upgrade our infrastructure and improve our cargo handling capabilities.”
On the West Coast, $9.9 million of PIDP funding, announced in October 2020, will also help finance improvements (including new ramps and signals) to a heavily travelled intersection in the Port of Los Angeles (POLA), on the San Pedro side of the Vincent Thomas Bridge. Kerry Cartwright, director of goods movement at POLA, said, “A POLA division director with extensive expertise and experience prepares all transportation project grant applications. POLA prides itself on successful applications, in which $400 million has been obtained in public agency grants since 2007.”
Other DOT discretionary grant programs available to port authorities include the Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) established in the 2015 FAST Act. Though interstate highway projects dominate the grantee lists, 2020 recipients include Port of Houston ($79.5 million) and Port Tampa Bay ($19.9 million), both for upgrading intermodal container terminals. Another DOT initiative, the BUILD program (Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development, previously TIGER) also benefits the seaport sector. Recipients in 2020 included the Maryland Port Authority ($10 million for flood mitigation at its Dundalk terminal) and in the Pacific Northwest at the Port of Everett ($17.75 million for a building barge terminal at the site of a long dormant paper mill).
With more than half of states having coastlines, and therefore, ports, planners should also look closely in their own backyards. In Florida, Port Everglades has benefited from the state’s Department of Transportation infrastructure grants of $91.2 million to be used toward construction and environmental mitigation for its $471 million Southport Turning Notch Expansion. Another example – from the Great Lakes – is Wisconsin’s Harbor Assistance Program, which has awarded some $188 million, from its 1980 inception through 2019.
Diesel emissions have long been a byproduct of cargo moving through ports as it interfaces with surface transport (whether on local or long-distance legs). With population concentrated near the coasts, ports have gained special attention at the federal level from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in its Diesel Emissions Reduction Act (DERA); the EPA’s work has been informed by an important collaboration with Port Everglades.