Vice President Joe Biden today touted the need for federal investment in infrastructure during a visit to the Port of Baltimore, which was among the winners of the latest round of TIGER grants announced last week.
The feds awarded a $10 million grant to the Maryland Port Administration in order to make numerous improvements at the port, which has become a leader in exports, including autos.
Maryland will use the funding to increase the cargo-handling capacity at the port's Fairfield Marine Terminal, currently leased to Daimler-Chrysler. The facility, which processes automobiles and light trucks, will also get rail access to help move goods to and from the port more quickly.
The project will cost $29 million, with the state picking up the portion not covered by the feds. The Port of Baltimore leads the country in imports and exports of automobiles and "roll on/roll off" machinery used in farming and construction.
Biden emphasized how important it is for Baltimore and other ports along the East Coast to deepen their channels and expand their capacity in anticipation of the larger "post-Panamax" ships that they will start receiving, once Panama completes the expansion of its canal this year.
"Our exports are at their highest level ever, and now with the modernization of the Port of Baltimore and other East Coast ports, that number is going to do nothing but grow," Biden said.
He said the Baltimore project would improve efficiency at the port and reduce shipping costs for automakers.
Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, who also attended the event, echoed Biden's remarks and touted the importance of the TIGER grant program, citing its role in repairing roadways, improving freight facilities, and supporting innovative projects.
For several years, U.S. ports along the East Coast have been busily preparing for the expansion of the Panama Canal, and many have argued that the feds have not done enough in recent years to help.
That may be changing. Earlier this year, the Senate passed legislation that would result in more spending on maintenance of harbors -- long a priority for port advocates -- and the president recently announced procedures designed to permit some federal permitting for infrastructure projects.
Meanwhile, the American Association of Port Authorities notes that the proportion of port projects getting TIGER funding is on the rise. Ports got 12 awards totaling $103.7 million, or 21.9 percent of all TIGER funding this year. The very first round of TIGER funding gave just 7 percent of grant money to ports.
Still, TIGER funding represents just a small portion of total federal transportation dollars, which amount to about $52.5 billion. As Transportation Issues Daily notes today, "TIGER V barely moves the needle in funding transportation projects."
That's especially troubling, since both the White House and Congress have failed to seriously consider new major sources of transportation revenue despite rhetoric touting the need to invest.