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White House moves to speed newly passed infrastructure funding for ports

While many projects funded by the bill could take years to be completed, senior administration officials said they are working to accelerate that process.
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WASHINGTON — The Biden administration announced steps Tuesday to speed up the distribution of some of the $17 billion for ports in the infrastructure bill passed Friday, even before the bill has been signed into law, in an effort to relieve supply chain backlogs that have driven up prices and created project shortages.

While many projects funded by the bill could take years to be completed, senior administration officials said they are working to accelerate that process, including a change in how grant money is allocated that will allow the Port of Savannah in Georgia, which has been snarled by congestion, to move cargo quicker.

The White House is eager to show tangible results from the passage of the $555 billion infrastructure bill, a central piece of President Joe Biden’s legislative agenda that he has spent much of his time in office wrangling through Congress. The White House will be sending Biden and other White House surrogates across the country to promote the bill, with Biden making his first stop Wednesday at the Port of Baltimore.

“There’s obviously immediate action that is being laid out here, and these are also a set of long-term investments that will emerge around the country to make sure that we do not have future bottlenecks,” said a senior administration official in a call with reporters Tuesday.

The country’s busiest ports have been experiencing huge delays in getting cargo off container ships and onto trucks following a wave of pandemic-related disruptions to the global supply chain and changes in consumer spending habits.

Beyond short-term fixes to ease congestion, Biden has said greater investment needs to be made to make the country’s ports more efficient and competitive longer term. Only four U.S. ports are among the top 50 busiest ports in the world, and no U.S. port is in the top 10, the administration said.

In Savannah, the Department of Transportation will begin allowing cost savings to be redirected toward other projects, allowing the port there to reallocate more than $8 million to convert existing inland facilities into five pop-up container yards, getting cargo closer to its final destination and freeing up valuable space closer to the port.

The effect of that project could be felt within the next 30 to 45 days, said the senior administration official.

Other short-term projects include a program to modernize ports and connecting highways with more than $240 million in grants over the next 45 days through the first federal grant program dedicated to port infrastructure, the administration said. The Army Corps of Engineers will identify within the next 60 days more than $4 billion worth of projects to repair outdated infrastructure and deepen harbors so larger container ships can enter, the White House said.

Within 90 days, the administration will designate $3.4 billion worth of projects to upgrade inspection facilities to make trade through the southern and northern land borders more efficient. It will also open bidding for the first round of $475 million in grants for port and marine highway infrastructure funded by the bill, the White House said.

The administration plans to give states guidelines soon that will outline how they can use grant and loan programs to improve the supply chain with $50 billion in funding for states through infrastructure bills.

Another project officials hope to move on quickly will be to better coordinate data sharing among the various private companies operating in the supply chain, including shipping lines, terminal operators, railroads, truckers, warehouses and beneficial cargo owners, the official said.