Connecticut’s notoriously congested stretch of the I-95 interstate could be a key to a maritime revival of the state’s ports, according to a new strategic plan.

Environmental considerations and escalating highway congestion are among supply chain management issues that could augur a new future for the state’s small deep-water ports of Bridgeport, New Haven and New London, according to a maritime strategy paper released Aug. 9 by the Connecticut Port Authority.

“Congestion on I-95 is not sustainable and trucking solutions are limited,” the report declares in one bullet point. Despite decades of widening the roadway and removing tollbooths, traffic on the 128-mile section between New York and Rhode Island moves at a crawl on many days.

That bottleneck is one inspiration for container-on-barge services that can carry freight from Mid-Atlantic containership ports to New England. One of the latest is the Davisville/Brooklyn/Newark Container-On-Barge Service, sponsored by the Quonset Development Corp. of Rhode Island.

The recipient last week of a $855,200 Marine Highways Grant from the U.S. Maritime Administration, the service will offer a twice-weekly dedicated run between Newark, N.J., Brooklyn, N.Y., and the Port of Davisville, R.I., using a 800-TEU capacity deck barge.

Marad officials say that will take around 83,200 containers off the highways and eliminate some 15 million truck miles annually, while saving shipping costs.

Connecticut could latch onto that marine intermodal market, by updating its outdated ports and adding capacity, including finding alternative space for container handling, the port authority paper says.

Non-containerized break bulk cargos will continue to be the biggest category for the state’s three ports, accounting for some 2.2 million metric tons in 2017. Petroleum products including motor fuels and home heating oil account for more than half the shipped imports, including 70% of home heating oil used in the state, mostly arriving through New Haven.

The small Connecticut ports are most efficient at break bulk cargos – goods that don’t easily fit into shipping containers – given their location midway between New York and Boston. That will continue, but increasing containerization, short-sea shipping and I-95 traffic can open new opportunity, the report says.

For example, the report recalls how Connecticut ports used to be distribution points for perishables and food before the interstate highway system grew in the 1950s and ‘60s, and “limited infrastructure, high costs of utilities in Connecticut, and economic incentives and infrastructure investments by other states, caused this business to shift to other East Coast ports.

“This changed the calculus of importing perishables and other foods, as shippers are now closer to customers south of New York, but still need to transit the congested I-95 corridor to reach New England consumers. Due to Connecticut’s geographic location, its ports could provide an alternative entry point for perishable and food products headed to the New England market – allowing shippers to avoid the transportation bottleneck of the I-95 corridor when moving goods north from more southern ports.”

Finding innovative solutions to the lack of onshore container storage, such as finding other spaces along the coast or creating one or more “inland ports” to handle goods could boost that effort, and take hundreds of trucks off I-95, the report says.

The five-year plan calls for continued investment and improvements at the State Pier in New London, a 30-acre site where $15 million has already been committed. Close to the east end of Long Island Sound, New London could be a base for building offshore wind energy arrays off southern New England, the port authority says.

Other recommendations on the report call for improving cross-Sound ferry services, cruise ship docking, and continuing to dredge the state’s ports and channels, working with the Corps of Engineers.

Contributing Editor Kirk Moore was a reporter for the Asbury Park Press for over 30 years before joining WorkBoat in 2015. He wrote several award-winning stories on marine, environmental, coastal and military issues that helped drive federal and state government policy changes. He has also been an editor for WorkBoat’s sister publication, National Fisherman, for over 25 years. Moore was awarded the Online News Association 2011 Knight Award for Public Service for the “Barnegat Bay Under Stress,” 2010 series that led to the New Jersey state government’s restoration plan. He lives in West Creek, N.J.