Sponsors of critical maritime transportation projects received welcome news this week, as the U.S. Department of Transportation (“USDOT”) published a Notice of Funding Opportunity (“NOFO”) for America’s Marine Highway Projects. This notice makes available roughly $7 million in recently-appropriated funds for the Short Sea Transportation Program (46 U.S.C. § 55601), commonly referred to as America’s Marine Highway Program (“AMHP”).

The U.S. Maritime Administration (“MARAD”) is in charge of this important, but perhaps not well-known, program:  “The America’s Marine Highway System consists of our Nation’s navigable waterways including rivers, bays, channels, the Great Lakes, the Saint Lawrence Seaway System, coastal, and open-ocean routes. The Marine Highway Program works to further incorporate these waterways into the greater U.S. transportation system, especially where marine transportation services are the most efficient, effective, and sustainable transportation option.”

Eligible projects include expansions of documented vessels or port and landside infrastructure that USDOT has previously designated as a Marine Highway Project. A current list of designated projects is available on the AMHP website. The NOFO encourages projects sponsors of designated projects to submit applications by the October 5, 2018 deadline.

In a continuation of this Administration’s efforts to use all available tools to incentivize innovation and efficient project delivery methods, this NOFO encourages project applicants to develop public private partnerships. Furthermore, the NOFO sets a maximum federal share of 80% for projects receiving AMHP grants, but stipulates that projects providing a larger non-federal share will receive preference.

In what is becoming a familiar set of key federal objectives (see, e.g., USDOT’s recent NOFOs for the INFRA and BUILD programs), this NOFO states that USDOT will consider the following when analyzing AMHP applications:

  • Supporting economic vitality at the national and regional level;
  • Utilizing alternative funding sources and innovative financing models to attract non-Federal sources of infrastructure investment;
  • Accounting for the life-cycle costs of the project to promote the state of good repair;
  • Using innovative approaches to improve safety and expedite project delivery; and,
  • Holding grant recipients accountable for their performance and achieving specific, measurable outcomes identified by grant applicants.

AMHP plays a critical role in moving people and goods throughout the United States using the country’s navigable waterways and is closely integrated with other elements of the U.S. transportation system.  The NOFO shows the USDOT’s commitment to encouraging innovation across the various types of the nation’s transportation infrastructure.