The Maritime Administration awarded the ports of Baton Rouge and New Orleans a $3.2 million Marine Highway Program grant to support a program to put shipping containers on barges rather than congested roadways. The ports’ container on barge (COB) service between the Louisiana ports was awarded the largest of such grants announced last week by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Sponsored by the Port of New Orleans, the grant funds will support the ports of Baton Rouge, La., and New Orleans container on barge service, allowing them to purchase vessels that will increase the viability of the service. As Louisiana’s chemical industry continues to grow, the demand for more inland transportation has increased; the barges are essential to increasing the capacity of the shuttle, intermodal efficiency, and reducing costs. The existing container on barge service currently moves approximately 16,800 FEUs (40' equivalent units) between Memphis/Baton Rouge and New Orleans.

In February 2016, Seacor AMH, part of Seacor Holdings Inc.’s Inland River Services group in cooperation with the Port of New Orleans and the Port of Greater Baton Rouge, La., tested the idea of putting empty containers from Seacor’s Memphis facility on barges and transporting them down to Port Allen, La., within the Baton Rouge port’s confines, where the containers would be available to a number of chemical companies in the area to fill with plastic resins. Once the containers were loaded and brought back to the Port Allen yard, they would again be loaded onto barges and taken to New Orleans where they would be loaded onto ships for export.

The service received a boost from Marad's Marine Highway Program to the tune of a $1.7 million grant. The program has the goal of expanding the use of U.S. navigable waterways to relieve landside congestion and reduce air emissions. Marad officials predicted that the Seacor service could eventually eliminate 12,500 truck trips annually.

“The Mississippi River is America’s global commerce super highway, and our state’s capabilities to move product up and down the lower river is a critical link in the nation’s export/import logistics chain,” U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, R-La., said in a statement announcing the grant. “Louisiana’s ports have historically handled bulk cargo like grains, coffee, steel, rubber and fuels. We are seeing surges in shipping containers at other ports around the United States, but not Louisiana. This service helps to put Louisiana’s ports in the game. We have five of the top 15 ports in the country and handle up to 25% of all the waterborne commerce in the United States. We need to stay in front of shipping trends.  This funding allows us to do that by shipping containers on our river system to other ports. The other benefit is that this service keeps the new cargo on the river — helping to alleviate traffic congestion. This grant is a win-win-win for our ports, our industry and for Louisiana drivers.”

Ken Hocke has been the senior editor of WorkBoat since 1999. He was the associate editor of WorkBoat from 1997 to 1999. Prior to that, he was the editor of the Daily Shipping Guide, a transportation daily in New Orleans. He has written for other publications including The Times-Picayune. He graduated from Louisiana State University with an arts and sciences degree, with a concentration in English, in 1978.