Building a “marine highway” could save money, add jobs, help build the economy and cut air emissions but does the US have the political will to overcome historical obstacles? By Stas Margaronis, AJOTAs Congress struggles to find the $450 billion to pay for the next highway bill (Surface Transportation Authorization Act) a proposed marine highway fleet could move large numbers of truckloads on to ships, reducing coastal highway truck damage costs, fuel consumption, carbon emissions, save shippers and create thousands of new jobs. The U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) says that 10,000 trucks per day travel along the Pacific Coast’s I- 5 and another 10,000 travel along I-95 on the Atlantic Coast. Ships can save shippers money compared to trucks along such routes because they consume only about 16% of the fuel consumed by a diesel truck, according to the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS). The August announcement of new marine highway corridors by the U.S. Maritime Administration (MARAD) establishes a framework for shifting of truckloads off highways and on to ships and tug/ barges along the following corridors:
  • Atlantic Coast corridor
  • Pacific Coast corridor
  • Gulf Coast and Mississippi River corridors
  • The Great Lakes corridors
“Making better use of our rivers and coastal routes offers an intelligent way to relieve some of the biggest challenges we face in transportation – congestion on our roads, climate change, fossil fuel energy use and soaring road maintenance costs,” says U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “There is no better time for us to improve the use of our rivers and coasts for transportation.” Marine Highway Ships Can Cut Road Spending The estimated cost of building the ship in the US is $60 million. Calculating the savings cannot be exact, due to variances in weight and conditions. Nevertheless, a 1,000-teu ship is capable of carrying over 300 fifty-three foot domestic containers. The 1,000-teu ship travels at an eighteen knot service speed, which over a distance of 374 nautical miles from Los Angeles to Oakland, is a voyage that can be made within 24 hours + 12 hours port time + 24 hours back to Los Angeles + 12 hours port time = 72 hours or three days for one round trip and six days for two round trips with one day in reserve. Over the course of one year that ship would be able to cover 81,744 road miles carrying 309 truckloads per voyage. Based on the Kansas truck damage rate this could result in a savings of $141 million per year. The savings possible from financing a fleet of new ships can be seen in the money needed to finance one freeway widening. For example, the proposed widening of the #710 freeway in Southern California will cost at least $5 billion and is designed to alleviate truck traffic going to and from the Port of Long Beach. As ships consume less diesel fuel than trucks and so they will generate at least 50% less carbon emissions than trucks, according to an air emissions expert. James Corbett is professor of marine policy at the University of Delaware’s College of Marine and Earth Studies. He advises a number of states on air quality issues including California and is an authority on the comparative emissions of trucks and ships. Corbett says his research found that a truck, consuming diesel fuel at a rate of 6 miles per gallon, carrying a twenty-foot container weighing 7 tons, generates 800 grams of carbon dioxide per mile. In contrast, a small ship that transports 200 twenty-foot containers, weighing 7 tons, generates only 400 grams per container of carbon dioxide per mile, or 50% of truck emissions.

American Feeder Lines – start of a transformation?

Maybe the first step in the creating a Marine Highway has already been taken. A start-up company, American Feeder Lines (AFL), won approval from the USDOT for its US coastal container service. S