Date: Jan. 7, 2004
Contacts: Patrice Pages, Media Relations Officer
Heather McDonald, Media Relations Assistant
Office of News and Public Information
202-334-2138; e-mail <>


Department of Transportation Should Lead Efforts
To Monitor and Improve the Marine Transportation System

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Department of Transportation should take the lead in assessing and improving the performance of the nation's entire marine transportation system, says a new report from the National Academies' Transportation Research Board. In particular, DOT should begin immediately to develop reports on the condition, performance, and use of the marine transportation system and seek a mandate from Congress to produce such reports on a regular basis, as it already does for the highway and transit systems, said the committee that wrote the report.

Responsibility for providing the critical infrastructure and services of the system, which consists of hundreds of ports, thousands of waterway terminals, and tens of thousands of shippers and carriers, is currently shared by many public and private entities. Federal agencies with important responsibilities include the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Maritime Administration, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. But duties are widely dispersed among the agencies and are not well-coordinated, the committee said.

"Expecting these agencies to collect and analyze information about the performance of the entire marine transportation system is unrealistic because each agency is driven by specific objectives, budgets, and statutory obligations," said committee chair Mortimer L. Downey, president of PB Consult Inc., Washington, D.C. "Only DOT has a clear responsibility to marshal this information and ensure that it is used for federal transportation policy-making."

The current lack of centralized information about the marine transportation system could lead to the neglect of problems and missed opportunities for solving them, the report says. Such problems include insufficient capacity of highways and railroads that connect to the major ports to handle container traffic; delays in modernizing the infrastructure of inland waterways; and the absence of comprehensive efforts to strengthen the safety and security of ports and transportation operations. The committee also noted the need for more systematic use of information on marine accidents – such as vessel groundings and oil spills – to inform decisions about whether to invest in channel dredging and charting.

DOT should model its new reports on the biennial Conditions and Performance reports developed by the Federal Highway Administration and the Federal Transit Administration, the committee said. The reports should describe current physical conditions and assess performance in terms of economic and environmental outcomes. They also should look to the future by estimating the investments required to meet changes in traffic demand resulting from continued growth in international trade, to improve homeland security, and to better protect the marine environment.

Also, all user-generated revenue should be fully and promptly reinvested in the marine transportation system, the report says. Unlike the federal aviation and surface transportation programs -- in which nearly all of the revenue generated by users is reinvested to improve the programs -- only part of the money collected from maritime commerce is used to improve marine transportation, for example by modernizing locks and dams and by maintaining channel depth and width.

"The administration, supported by DOT and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, should seek from Congress the commitment to put all of this revenue back into the marine transportation system," Downey said. "Without this commitment, users are reluctant to support additional fees, and they have come to question the federal commitment to improving the system."

The report concludes that the nation's transportation systems are becoming increasingly integrated and that federal policies for one mode of transportation are affecting all other modes. The authority of federal decision-makers to improve the overall transportation system must therefore be flexible and cut across transportation modes and the federal agencies that oversee them, the committee said. The report urges Congress to provide federal decision-makers with a more flexible and balanced set of tools for making national transportation investments and policy.

"Federal policy-makers should take a broad and system-level perspective on the outcomes of transportation investment and policy-making and at the same time be provided with the information and tools necessary to act from this perspective," Downey said.

The study was sponsored by the U.S. Coast Guard, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Maritime Administration, U.S. Customs Service, Office of the Secretary of the Department of Transportation, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The Transportation Research Board is a division of the National Research Council, which is the principal operating arm of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering. It is a private, nonprofit institution that provides science advice under a congressional charter. A committee roster follows.

PDF files of The Marine Transportation System and the Federal Role: Measuring Performance, Targeting Improvement are available on the TRB Web site at Printed copies will soon be available for purchase from the Transportation Research Board's Publication Sales Office, tel. 202-334-3213, or on the Internet at Reporters may obtain a pre-publication copy from the Office of News and Public Information (contacts listed above).

Marine Board

Committee for a Study of the Federal Role in the Marine Transportation System

Mortimer L. Downey (chair)
PB Consult Inc.
Washington, D.C.

William O. Gray
Gray Maritime Co.
Darien, Conn.

Elvin R. Heiberg III*
Heiberg Associates Inc.
Arlington, Va.

Thomas D. Hopkins
College of Business
Rochester Institute of Technology
Rochester, N.Y.

Geraldine Knatz
Managing Director
Port of Long Beach
Long Beach, Calif.

Thomas D. Larson*
Transportation Consultant
Lemont, Pa.

Sally A. Lentz
Executive Director and General Counsel
Ocean Advocates
Clarksville, Md.

Henry S. Marcus
Professor of Marine Systems, and
Chair, Ocean Systems Management Program
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

James R. McCarville
Executive Director
Port of Pittsburgh Commission

Reginald E. McKamie Sr.
Maritime Law Association

Richard R. Mudge
Vice President
Delcan Inc.
Reston, Va.

Robert C. North
North Star Maritime Inc.
Queenstown, Md.

John B. Torgan
Narragansett Bay Keeper
Save the Bay
Providence, R.I.

Robert C. Waters
School of Engineering Management
George Washington University
Washington, D.C.


Tom Menzies Jr.
Study Director

* Member, National Academy of Engineering