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Biden’s Potential Impact on America’s Marine Highway Initiatives

The U.S. Maritime Administration (MARAD) and its Marine Highway Program aims to work with the public and private sector to develop and expand marine highway service options. The America’s Marine Highway Program (AMHP) was established by Section 1121 of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 to reduce “landside” shipping and transportation congestion through the designation of Marine Highway Routes. Section 405 of the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act of 2012 further expanded the scope of the program to increase the utilization and efficiency of domestic freight or passenger transportation on Marine Highway routes between U.S. ports.

Despite a $9.5 million funding initiative in early 2020, however, the AMHP has been unable to adequately address the rapidly deteriorating status of several of America’s existing marine highways, such as Alaska’s Marine Highway System, which dates back to the earliest years of Alaska statehood in the 1960s. The Alaska Highway serves the islands in the southeastern part of the state and the Aleutian chain that stretches into the northern Pacific Ocean, covering some 3,500 miles in all. The Alaska Highway gained federal recognition in 2002, when it was named a National Scenic Byway for its scenic, cultural, and archaeological qualities. The Alaska communities served by the Highway each have their own indigenous and modern culture, fascinating history and beautiful scenery. In 2005, the Alaska Highway was named an All-American Road by the Federal Highway Administration, the highest designation awarded by the National Scenic Byways Program. It is the only marine route with the designation of National Scenic Byway and All-American Road.

The impact of a transition to a “green technology”-focused Biden Administration could portend a greater investment in, and utilization of, waterways and canals across the U.S. as a way to shift freight from road. While freight volumes may not permit replacement, where feasible, water transport would significantly reduce emissions compared with trucks or rail. The lesson from Alaska is clear: An investment in marine highway service – where water-based transport is the most efficient, effective and sustainable option – is an avenue toward achieving job growth, emissions reductions and economic stimulus in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

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