Virginia. A major stumbling block for moving cargo out
of the port of Hampton Roads, Va., is that none of the
tunnels in West Virginia are high enough to accommodate double-stack containers by standard trains. But that
is the norm — everyone has double-stack containers.
Right now, cargo from Hampton Roads, which is the
fifth or sixth largest port in the United States, goes by
train north around the mountains and comes down south
again to Chicago. You’re adding up to 36 hours to the
transit time. Congress, the governments of Virginia and
West Virginia, the port of Hampton Roads and Norfolk
Southern Railroad have pooled money to alter the tunnels
so that they can take double-stack containers. Imagine
the education that had to go on. After years of working on
this project, everyone finally understands the importance.
Can we take that as a model and get the rail, trucking and ports to come together on a strategy to ensure
we have the ability to handle all the increased traffic?
That is my hope.
Is short-sea shipping a part of that strategy?
CONNAUGHTON: First of all, we’re going to change the
name because the very nomenclature excludes our
biggest success stories in short-sea shipping and that is on
our inland waterways. Shippers on the Mississippi River,
the Missouri and the Ohio move hundreds of millions of
tons of cargo every year. If those had to be on truck or on
rail it would overwhelm our transportation systems.
We hope that in February we’re going to roll out the
new short-sea shipping initiative. We have identified
throughout the United States all the current short-sea
shipping operators. We’re going to roll out this database.
One of the real short-sea shipping success stories is
the ferry from Bridgeport, Conn., across Long Island
Sound to Port Jefferson, N. Y. It has seen something like
a 60 percent increase in truck traffic. Why is that?
Because the truckers are finding it is quicker and cheaper to take the ferry across than to run the truck all the
way into New York and come back up I-95 into
Connecticut. It’s successful and financially viable. What
we should be doing is looking at those types of operations and figuring out ways to replicate them.
How about investment in the nation’s mediumsize ports? Is that a way to mitigate future
CONNAUGHTON: One reason for the development of
these mega-ports is the investment required to accommodate the vessels. We’re now moving up to ships that
are [ 1,100-1,400 feet in length]. The cost of infrastructure is extensive. You are looking at environmental
hurdles, and dredging and encroachment issues.
Smaller ports are looking for their niche in the market. Most of the auto trade has moved out of L.A. and
Long Beach and up to Port Hueneme, which has probably become one of the largest automobile ports in the
What is the status of the Maritime Security
Program (MSP), which pays ship owners $2.6
million per vessel annually to make their ships
available for sealift missions? The stipend is
supposed to rise to $3.1 million by 2012 but
total MSP funding is being reduced. Will the program slip below the current level of 60 ships?
CONNAUGH TON: There is a great deal of concern in the
Department of Defense and industry about where the program is going, given fiscal constraints. There is a 1 percent
rescission in effect on all non-DoD budget programs.
Since this program is tied directly to the DoD, we are
working with the DoD to see if the MSP can be excepted.
What is the future of the Ready Reserve Force
comprising ships owned by the government
and maintained in various stages of readiness?
In recent years, it has been reduced from 60
to 44 ships.
CONNAUGHTON: This is still a major program for the
Maritime Administration with a lot of value added for
the military. The military pays for the ships and we
administer the program. It has been very successful.
The U.S. Transportation Command has been extremely pleased with our performance. But as available dollars go down and requirements change, it’s going to
impact the size of the fleet.
Do you get more bang for the buck from the
incentive programs, such as MSP?
CONNAUGHTON: Yes. There have been several studies
that show the commercial option is less expensive in
the long term than to have a DoD asset. We need a certain level of government assets available and ready to
go in a very short time. But the most cost-effective way
to sustain operations is to use commercial assets.
In 2002, West Coast ports were closed in a
labor dispute which cost the nation billions.
When you meet with business and labor, do
you proselytize on the benefits of stability?
CONNAUGHTON: This system now is so integrated
that it has national repercussions that were not perceived 20 years ago. All of a sudden people have some
inkling of the power and influence they have. It’s about
trying to use it wisely and use it in such a way that it
helps them and the American public.
I don’t think either side wants to repeat what happened in 2002. Our job is to make sure it doesn’t. I guess
that’s why I get to work so early and leave so late. ■