Federal and state officials have broken ground on a project creating a so-called marine highway in northern California. The program is designed to take cargo off the roads and rails and instead move them by barge between the ports of Oakland, Stockton, and West Sacramento.
The project, nicknamed the Green Trade Corridor, is being seeded with a $30 million grant from the federally funded infrastructure program known as TIGER. Under the project, set for completion in early 2012, barges will move cargo along the inland waterway system from Stockton and West Sacramento to the Port of Oakland for ultimate shipment to Asian destinations, officials said.
Maritime Administrator David T. Matsuda said the project will reduce carbon emissions from trucks traveling the busy Interstate 580 corridor, but will also "create new alternatives throughout Northern California to transport exports to the Far East."
Grant money will be used to build a staging area at the Port of Stockton for cargoes dedicated to the service. It will also fund construction of a distribution center in West Sacramento that will mostly be used to repack agricultural products from California's Central Valley into containerized loads for export to Far East markets, officials said.
The initiative is part of a federally funded program to divert cargo and passenger traffic from congested roads to underutilized inland waterways, many of them along coastal highways. As part of a federal initiative announced in mid-August by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, 18 rivers and coastal routes have been invited to participate in the program.
Supporters of the program say the 25,000 miles of navigable U.S. waterways handle just 2 percent of the nation's domestic shipments and have the capacity to accommodate much more. Because one barge tow can transport 456 containers that might otherwise move by truck, shifting even a modest amount of cargo to water would be both cost-effective and environmentally friendly, backers say.
Skeptics maintain that "marine highways" will always be a slower and less-efficient means of freight transportation than over-the-road trucks or intermodal services, especially on short to intermediate hauls. They argue that coastal transport's snail's-pace transit times are a poor fit for many industries, that the additional cargo handling needed will actually drive up costs, and that the Jones Act, an 89-year-old law requiring that vessels used in domestic trades be U.S.-built, -registered, and -crewed, will make marine highway services uncompetitive.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) recently introduced legislation to repeal the Jones Act.