POLL QUESTION

Maine to New York barge route on infrastructure wish list sent to Trump administration

Posted March 05, 2017, at 8:15 a.m.
Last modified March 05, 2017, at 11:37 a.m.

Poll Question

President Donald Trump told Congress this week that he wants to see a trillion dollars spent on the nation’s infrastructure through an unspecified public-private partnership.

Now states, including Maine, are putting down markers for where they see the biggest needs. Maine’s to-do list includes a plan for new barge service between here and New York.

The National Governor’s Association submitted its members’ wish lists to the Trump administration last week. The overall list isn’t being made public, but the Maine Department of Transportation is releasing its proposal: almost half a billion dollars for improving the state’s roads and bridges and to jump-start a project that would revive a long-dormant coastal barge route, from Maine to New York City.

Department of Transportation spokesman Ted Talbot said state Transportation Commissioner David Bernhardt met this week in Washington with federal officials and the state’s congressional delegation, in part to talk up Maine’s infrastructure needs, although he said the state does want to maintain control over how its federal allotments are spent.

“He met with U.S. DOT Transportation Secretary Chao, and that list, while not overly project specific, is really more about stabilizing our funding,” Talbot said.

The barge project, dubbed the New England Marine Highway, is being led by the Port Authority of Maine and includes the construction of two hybrid tugboat-driven barges to bring high-volume, low-margin freight such as wood chips and bottled water from Maine to markets south of here.

Authority Executive Director John Henshaw said that as the shipping industry moves to deployment of “megaships” that need to quickly offload as many as 8,000 cargo containers at the few ports big enough to handle them, new opportunities are opening for more nimble, regional barge service.

“We’ve been working closely with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey for some time. And they are very interested in the concept because they are facing increasing pressures to move containers out of the port quickly, based on these larger vessels that are going to be calling,” he said.

Henshaw said the project would include $135 million in public funds and tens of millions more pledged by Eimskip, the Iceland-based shipping company that has made Portland its U.S. port, and New York-based tugboat company McAllister Towing and Transportation.

Trump this week said he wants to foster joint public-private infrastructure investments, although it’s not clear yet what financial models he is considering. More details could emerge later this month.

This article appears through a media partnership with Maine Public.

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