- Associated Press - Friday, September 12, 2014

CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) - A top federal maritime official said Friday that congestion in moving goods in and out of terminals is a growing problem facing America’s ports.

“All of the ports in general have some kind of congestion at the gate. We refer to it in the business as the first mile or the last mile whether it’s an import or an export,” U.S. Department of Transportation Maritime Administrator Paul Jaenichen said while visiting the South Carolina Ports Authority.

Jaenichen came to formally announce an $11 million grant to upgrade a local terminal to handle a new generation of larger container ships.

“Many of the ports grew up around cities and local areas where the port was there first and the city sort of grew around it and now you have constrained it,” he said. “Now you have challenges in being able to get the cargo out of the port - you have (railroad) grade crossings, you have truck activities and you have a lot of trucks being queued up.”

The problem, he said, will likely get worse in the coming decades with the nation’s population is expected to grow to 400 million people by 2050 requiring the movement of an additional 14 billion tons of cargo.

The Federal Maritime Commission begins a series of meetings in Los Angeles next week to discuss the problem with industry leaders.

Commission Chairman Mario Cordero told the South Carolina International Trade Conference earlier this week that a second meeting will be held in Baltimore next month with later sessions to be held in the Southeast, perhaps in Charleston, and in New Orleans.

He envisions the meetings will result in a study of ways to deal with congestion.

The $11 million for the Wando-Welch Terminal in Mount Pleasant is part of a new round of $600 million in TIGER grants for 72 transportation projects in 46 states.

TIGER stands for Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery and the first round of grants were awarded in 2009 as a way to create jobs and help the nation out of the Great Recession.

The new round of grants announced this week includes $74 million for ports and since the grant program began, almost $500 million has been awarded for port projects across the nation.

U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., had earlier this week announced the grants for South Carolina which include both the terminal work and money for a street project in Columbia.

John Hassell, the vice chairman of the ports authority board said work on the terminal project, estimated to be more than $80 million, will begin next year and should take between two and two-and-a-half years.

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On the Internet:

Transportation Department 2014 Tiger Grants: http://1.usa.gov/1wnbu2c

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