On Wednesday, the Biden administration said it will set aside $450 million from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law this year towards accomplishing one goal: unclogging U.S. ports.
Individual ports, which operate as independent businesses, will soon be able to apply for money from the government to pay for a wide range of projects — from expanding terminals to constructing new piers to creating rail yards for moving goods.
“At a foundational level, all of the projects to be chosen must improve the movement of goods,” is how a senior administration official put it while announcing the new money. The applications are due by mid-May with officials envisioning that funds will begin to be disbursed by the fall.
Bottlenecks remain at ports around the country even as the overall situation improves at key hubs like the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles. The California ports have struggled to keep up with demand and set records in January for the amount goods moved, but work remains to be done to clear the docks.
Gene Seroka, executive director at the Port of Los Angeles, recently told Yahoo Finance he hoped the infrastructure law “will allow us to hopefully erase and leapfrog a decade worth of underinvestment.”
‘The largest ever federal investment in modernizing our country’s ports’
The money will flow through the Port Infrastructure Development Program (PIDP), in the largest-ever infusion of funds the program has seen.
“President Biden is leading the largest ever federal investment in modernizing our country’s ports, which will improve our supply chains and the lives of Americans who depend on them,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who oversees the ports, said in a statement.
This latest effort, which is of the administration’s overall Port Action Plan, will strengthen supply chains and address inflation, officials promise.
The 2,702-page Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act includes $550 billion in total new spending, with $17.1 billion going to seaports. Other funds will go to airports, roads, public transit, broadband access, and other infrastructure projects.
‘Get goods moving more efficiently’
Officials hope that both short- and long-term port projects will deliver some results quickly. They also hope the funds will reshape ports in the years ahead with projects like dredging to allow bigger boats to enter or allow more boats to dock at once in the works.
“We’re proud to announce this funding to help ports improve their infrastructure — to get goods moving more efficiently and help keep costs under control for American families,” Buttigieg added.
However, experts caution the process can often be slow. Kevin DeGood, director of infrastructure policy at the Center for American Progress, a progressive think tank, recently told Yahoo Finance that some new construction projects in ports can be 10 or 15 years in the making. The process historically involves “four congressional authorizations in order for you to go from idea conception to finalized project,” he said.
The money in the infrastructure law comes on top of what the U.S. government sends to ports every year, including $7.8 billion set aside in fiscal year 2021. Buttigieg has noted that the funding process for new projects has been ongoing. Still, previously for every project they could get off the ground “there are many more that are worthy but that we can’t support.”
This legislation “helps us to change that,” he said.
On Wednesday, the administration also announced it would release a new report on ports and supply chain issues overall. A senior administration official described it as “the first comprehensive look at a system of systems that doesn’t always work well together” when ships arrive to unload their goods.