The American Association of Port Authorities (“AAPA”) recently released its State of Freight III – Rail Access and Port Multimodal Funding Needs Report. For its report, AAPA surveyed its members to determine what aspects of rail infrastructure ports most need.

We thought it would be informative to talk with John Young, AAPA’s Director of Freight & Surface Transportation’s Policy, about the survey results and the report.

Nossaman: John, thank you for taking the time to speak with us. Can you please tell us a little bit about the AAPA?

John Young: AAPA represents 130 public port authorities in the U.S., Canada, the Caribbean and Latin America. For more than a century, AAPA membership has empowered port authorities and their maritime industry partners to serve global customers and create economic and social value for their communities.

Nossaman: The State of Freight report AAPA recently released is the third of a series. Could you summarize for us your previous State of Freight publications?

John Young: In AAPA’s 2015 State of Freight report, the focus of that survey was on intermodal connections. One third of respondents said congestion at their port’s intermodal connectors caused port productivity to decline by 25% or more over the previous 10 years. A large majority (80%) of respondents said they require at least $10 million for intermodal connectors through 2025, while 30% of respondents anticipated a need of at least $100 million. In the 2015 report, respondents also stated that $28.9 billion was needed for 125 port-related freight network projects.

State of Freight II followed the 2015 passage of the FAST Act, which enacted many of AAPA’s top freight policies, such as providing dedicated funding for freight projects. In 2016, AAPA, in partnership with the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials released the State of Freight II. The results of this report established a baseline of freight infrastructure need to be $287 billion to build out a 21st century freight network.

Nossaman: State of Freight III discusses the need for improved rail access — efficient transfer of containers and other bulk goods directly from a maritime vessel to a rail car and vice versa.

What did your members identify as the greatest barriers to improved rail access at ports?

John Young: Sixty-seven percent of our members report that funding and financing options are significant barriers to improved rail access.

Nossaman: We understand that ports are eligible for the U.S. DOT’s INFRA grant program (the rebranded “FASTLANE” program). We noted the recent funding announcement awarding a $25.5 million grant to the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority to improve the Packer Avenue Marine Terminal.

What other federal funding tools are available to ports for land-side infrastructure improvements?

John Young: Ports may utilize BUILD grants for landside infrastructure projects and in some cases TIGER in the past has been used for berth dredging projects. In April of this year, U.S. DOT issued a Notice of Funding Opportunity making eligible $1.5 billion in grant funding. The deadline to submit an application for a FY 2018 BUILD grant is July 19, 2018.

The BUILD program is this Administration’s rebranding of the TIGER grant program. In 2018, port-related infrastructure projects received $72.7 million in Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (“TIGER”) grants.

Ports also may apply for grant funding under the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements Program (“CRISI”). In 2017, Congress authorized $65 million for a variety projects including highway-rail grade crossing improvement projects and projects to enhance multimodal connections. Ports that are public agencies or a publicly chartered authority are eligible for CRISI funding. CRISI applications are due June 21, 2018. We are also working with Congress on revamping the Maritime Administration’s (“MARAD”) Strong Ports grant program. We intend to make it more user friendly and to focus on small multimodal projects that connect both the landside and waterside networks more seamlessly to ports. We believe this will better augment the current Marine Highway Program and the FAST ACT freight programs as well as BUILD and CRISI on enhancing connectivity to the marine network.

Another federal program that impacts port landside infrastructure is the Port Security Grant Program (“PSGP”). Under the PSGP program, Ports can access federal funds to implement security measures that protect critical port infrastructure. We will be releasing a report on the PSGP in the coming month. Increasingly, when we talk about infrastructure investment we are also talking about supply chain security. As our freight network is built out and the supply chain becomes more integrated with the infrastructure we must make the investments to secure it. Ports are the logical place to start. Right now the federal government invests $100 million in the PSGP to protect 26% of the GDP that moves through our nation’s ports. That’s a good deal right now, but the new report will illustrate that security challenges don’t stop, but evolve.

Nossaman: Did your members identify any infrastructure barriers to rail access?

John Young: Yes, 37% of respondents identified at-grade rail crossings and clearance restrictions (overpasses and tunnels) as major barriers to rail access.

42% of respondents cited grade separation and 23% cited overpass/tunnel heightening as pressing rail project needs. Grade separation is important because it allows trains to cross over roads or other railroad tracks to eliminate congestion caused by blocked crossings and raising the heights of overpasses and tunnels allows taller trains so that carriers may double stack containers allowing for the more efficient movement of goods.

Nossaman: What are the large infrastructure projects that survey respondents identified to improve rail access?

John Young: On-dock rail facilities are the big ticket projects. They allow containers to be hauled directly to and from docks, eliminating truck drayage. Forty seven percent of respondents identified on-dock facilities as a pressing infrastructure need.

Nossaman: How would much would on-dock facilities, eliminating grade crossings, and raising the heights of overpasses and tunnels improve throughput capacity at ports?

John Young: Forty-three percent of our members report that improving rail access would contribute to over 25% more throughput capacity. Other members with smaller projects report good, although lower throughput gains.

Nossaman: Well, we want to thank John again for participating in this Q/A.