In a move to ease the severe congestion in the freight supply chain, the White House has announced a plan that seeks to speed up the award of more than $4 billion in federal infrastructure grants for waterway and border ports and increase flexibility in how recipients use existing grants.

[View DOT fact sheet about supply-chain plan here.]

"It lays out concrete steps for my administration to take over the next three months to invest in our ports and to relieve bottlenecks, " President Joe Biden said of the plan in speech at the Port of Baltimore on Nov. 10.

The multi-part “action plan,” which Biden administration officials released  Nov. 9, includes the start of a U.S. Dept. of Transportation Port Infrastructure Development Grant program within 45 days. The program was authorized Jan. 1 and initial appropriations for it were enacted in late December.

Under the program, DOT said it will award $230 million to ports, plus $13 million from the separate, and existing, Marine Highway Program.

In a targeted action to reduce congestion at the Port of Savannah, DOT will permit the Georgia Ports Authority to use more than $8 million to convert inland freight facilities into five “pop-up” container yards in Georgia and North Carolina.

DOT says that will allow the port to move some containers by rail and truck to those inland sites, and make additional real estate available closer to the port. The aim is to free more dock space and accelerate freight flows in and out of the port.

“Every part of the freight and logistics sector is reassessing its operations due to the current crisis,” Griff Lynch, executive director of the Georgia Ports Authority, said in a statement.

 “This reassigned funding will allow us to open new intermodal outlets to help alleviate supply chain congestion and improve the flow of goods for our customers at the Port of Savannah,” he added.

The administration’s plan also includes a directive to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to compile within 60 days a list of projects funded by $4 billion in existing appropriations for projects in coastal ports and on inland waterways.

In addition, the plan calls on agencies to identify within 90 days how to use $3.4 billion in available funds for improvements to land ports of entry—border stations—to move traffic and freight more efficiently across the northern and southern borders.

The plan would tap into the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act by opening a competition within 90 days for a $475-million initial round of port infrastructure and marine highway grants. Those funds are part of a $17-billion allotment for ports and inland waterways in the $1-trillion infrastructure measure, which the House passed  Nov. 5.

The White House announced on Nov. 10 that President Joe Biden will sign the bill Nov. 15.

Among other elements of the administration supply-chain plan, DOT will develop a “freight movement playbook” to assist states in using the department’s various grant and loan programs to speed freight movement.

Moreover DOT intends to work with the Federal Maritime Commission in seeking information concerning standardized data exchange requirements for freight movement.