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The Biden administration is moving to head off holiday season supply chain headaches with new federal grant flexibility for port operators that will let federal funds be used for an $8 million “pop-up container yard” project at the Port of Savannah.
Under the new policy, port operators will have the ability to take cost savings from existing federal grants and spend it on projects to alleviate supply chain problems.
“As an immediate action, we’re redirecting our project cost savings, from some existing work, giving ports more flexibility to do immediate projects,” said a senior administration official who briefed reporters on the plan Tuesday morning.
“For example, the port Savannah came in under budget on a previous grant. They now have the authority to redirect the savings and use it to build a pop-up container yard, that’s an inland container yard where you’re taking incoming containers already containers by rail, inland site, in this case a couple 100 miles inland, where they can be transferred,” the official said. “It’s a great way to get capacity and efficiency.”
The container yard project will give the Georgia Port Authority the ability to convert existing facilities in Georgia and North Carolina into five separate yards that will receive shipping containers by rail and truck after being offloaded from ships.
Experts say the current supply chain crisis is the result of labour shortages and an overabundance of rescheduled container ships, which sailed this year after a reduced 2020 schedule due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
While the worst shipping and unloading backups are in the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach – which combined handle roughly 40 percent of the nation’s incoming containerised cargo – other, smaller ports along the east coast of the US are feeling a squeeze from ships that are often unloading faster than truckers can move the newly-unloaded cargo.
Republicans have taken to blaming the Biden administration for the problems, citing President Biden’s Covid-19 vaccination policies as a cause.
While the bipartisan infrastructure bill passed by the House last week will unlock approximately $17bn in federal funds to improve facilities at coastal ports and other shipping facilities, White House officials say President Biden is “not waiting to take action” to solve the supply crunch.
“Today, the Biden-Harris Administration is announcing a set of concrete steps to accelerate investment in our ports, waterways, and freight networks. These goals and timelines will mobilize federal agencies and lay the foundation for successful implementation of the historic Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal,” the White House said in a statement distributed to reporters.
In addition to the new grant flexibility for port operators, the Biden administration will launch a Port Infrastructure Development Program meant to modernise ports and marine highways using more than $240m that will be distributed by the Department of Transportation over the next three months.
Additionally, the transportation department will announce more than $475m in additional grants to be funded by the infrastructure bill Mr Biden will sign into law in the coming days. These grants will be specifically targeted to projects meant to improve port and marine highway infrastructure.
Mr Biden will announce one of the first projects to be funded under the $240m ports programme – an expansion of a Baltimore tunnel to allow it to carry double-stacked shipping containers – when he travels to the Port of Baltimore on Wednesday.
“These are also sort of long term investments that will increase capacity around the country and make sure that we do not have future bottlenecks like we do at present,” the official said.