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Despite the national significance of ports, most port-related investments are limited to state or local appropriations. If there are multiple ports within a state, they often compete for the same funding resources if any funding programs exist at all. For example, Florida, Louisiana, and Texas are home to many local ports competing for a limited amount of available state project funding.

Grants, specifically the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) competitive grant program, represent the primary source of federal port investment. Since the program’s inception in 2009, 11% of the program’s funding has been awarded to 48 port projects.  The Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act of 2015 created a national freight program with a new $4.5 billion competitive grant program, which will fund eligible port-related projects. The Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA) of 2014 also authorized port-related projects, however only two of the 34 authorized projects were appropriated in the last federal appropriations cycle.

The federal Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF), designed to pay for dredging in harbors, has a balance of $8.41 billion. The fund collects its revenue through a 0.125% user fee on the value of the cargo in imported containers. Typically, that comes to about $15 per container box. Despite the significant dredging needs at the majority of U.S. ports, the fund’s balance has often been used for other purposes including federal deficit offsets and as a result has not been appropriated for its designated purpose. WRRDA included provisions designed to encourage the use of the funds for their designated purpose. To restore full channel depths and widths, it is estimated it will take at least five years of the U.S. Army Corps (USASCE) of Engineers receiving full HMTF revenues.

To remain competitive globally and with one another, ports have been investing in their facilities, and plan to spend $154.8 billion from 2016 to 2020 on expansion, modernization, and repair. However, connections to these ports are in need of modernization, including roads, rail, and inland waterways on the landside, and navigation channels on the water side. Landside connections are scheduled to receive only $11 billion in new federal funding for freight improvements through 2020, yet baseline projected needs total $29 billion.

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