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From Concept to Completion: The M-580 Green Trade Corridor

From Concept to Completion: The M-580 Green Trade Corridor

Most of you are familiar with the high cost of congestion and its impact on our nation’s roadways, our economic competitiveness, the environment, and the time commuters needlessly lose stuck in traffic each year.  According to the Texas Transportation Institute, the total financial cost of congestion in 2011 was $121 billion. Of that total, about $27 billion worth was wasted time and diesel fuel from trucks moving goods on the system. 

So what to do?

I’ll tell you what Northern California has done. Just recently, I joined Congressman Jerry McNerney and other state and local officials at the Port of Stockton for the dedication of M-580, an important Marine Highway project known as the “California Green Trade Corridor.”

Photo of marine corridor with port

The Marine Highway initiative aims to better incorporate America’s inland waterways into our country’s transportation system. Simply put, it aims to take some of that freight you see on roadways and move it to our waterways.

The marine highway takes its name from the nearby Interstate 580.

I-580 is one of the most-traveled roadways in our nation, and its travelers regularly experience significant delays. It also runs through the San Joaquin Valley, an area already recognized for some of our country’s worst air pollution.

With commercial and commuter traffic expected to grow, threatening a further increase in road congestion and worsening air quality, planners began looking for a way to relieve the situation. Fortunately our America’s Marine Highways program provided an answer: accommodating freight growth by increasing the movement of freight on water. 

Funded by a $30 million Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant and another $5 million in local money, the M-580 utilizes the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers, running parallel to the I-580 corridor between the Valley and Oakland, to transport freight between the critical ports of Oakland, Stockton, and West Sacramento. It is anticipated that running just two barges per week between Oakland and Stockton will eliminate approximately 200 trucks per day from the nearby roadway.

When the route’s second phase is up and running, the project is expected to eliminate 180,000 truck trips per year.

Chip Jaenichen christening ship

Infrastructure investment and the development of our nation’s ports and waterways have been among President Obama’s top priorities since day one of his Administration; they are also major components of his proposal to support middle class jobs. Since 2009, the Department of Transportation has directed $417 million in TIGER funding to projects at 33 ports, large and small, inland and coastal, including $130 million for projects supporting Marine Highway services. 

Moving more freight over our waterways and through our domestic seaports is a common sense solution to several increasingly-common infrastructure ailments.  So, the Obama Administration understands the importance of our nation’s port and waterway to our economy and is committed to seeing more projects, like the Green Trade Corridor, become a reality. 

Chip Jaenichen is Acting Administrator of the Maritime Administration.

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I understand the need for reducing air pollution in such an area as the I-580 corridor, but I'm not sure if simply moving the freights from the road to the waterways is a long-term solution to both our transportation and our pollution problems. It's clear anywhere you look in the United States that transportation is becoming increasingly problematic, and simply building more roads won't solve these problems. Alternate transportation is a fantastic idea, and utilizing waterways when it makes sense is a logical next step. However, there have to be significant moves toward ensuring pollution doesn't simply transfer from air to water. Polluting waterways is something that seriously impacts not just the surrounding area, but potentially hundreds and hundreds of miles of waterways and land downstream. If recent innovation has helped create a much more clean-operating ship, then this move is a smart one. But there are so many considerations that must be taken in this move, and it could potentially yield to more pollution than if we had just stuck to the roads.

A "Marine Highway" can be a reasonable idea for moving goods, but I hope no one really expects to see any noticeable difference on IH580. My bet is that there is easily enough latent demand for using that facility that any capacity freed up by lower truck volumes will easily be filled by other traffic. So, the resulting impact on congestion and air pollution will not be noticeable, and not likely measurable. The good news is that the two (highway and waterway) will be better able to accommodate the anticipated growth, compared to doing nothing.

Good comments, Chip. Let's hope the shippers find it economically feasible for the long term.
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