The Paducah-McCracken County Riverport Authority's container-on-barge program received a big lift this week with a $251,927 grant from the U.S. Maritime Administration (MARAD) Marine Highway program.
Paducah's award was one of six Marine Highway grants totalling $4.87 million announced Wednesday by Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao.
"Strengthening the country's waterways and domestic seaports stimulates economic growth, reduces congestion and increases the efficiency of our national freight transportation system," said Chao.
According to Bill Miller, riverport executive director, the MARAD grant will be used to purchase shoreside container-handling equipment. The total container-on-barge demonstration project will cost approximately $427,000.
Additional funding will come from the Kentucky Riverport Improvement fund of $87,000 and riverport funds to match the state's grant.
The riverport is the only port in Kentucky and on the Ohio River to have a Marine Highway designation. Paducah's container-on-barge program will stretch across three states and three marine highways.
"We believe that once the Port of Paducah proves the viability of container-on-barge, it's going to start creating other interest along the Ohio River and upper Mississippi," Miller said.
"It's going to trigger a lot of things and, I believe, open up markets that never existed before, including international markets."
According to Miller, one hopper barge can carry 36 loaded (40-foot) containers, which helps reduce the number of trucks on the highway, reduce (road) infrastructure costs and help the environment.
The container-on-barge service will provide benefits to existing industry, as well as new ones.
Miller included the ports of Louisville, St. Louis and Kansas City in his original proposal for the MARAD grant, but only the Paducah portion was approved. However, he still hopes to connect to those ports.
"The hope has always been to allow riverports that are not blue-water ports, or have issues generating year-round cargo, to work together as a coalition to provide service for very large customers and additional routes for shippers," he said.
"Supply chain people are looking for reliability. If you show you can meet their needs, they'll feed you more cargo," he said.
Along with the Paducah riverport's Marine Highway designation, and Foreign Trade Zone status, the container-on-barge program is another key "tool in the toolbox," Miller said.
The executive director is confident the container-on-barge project will yield results for the entire region.
"We are grateful for the support from our local, state and federal leadership, as well as economic development officials, for this opportunity to foster economic growth in western Kentucky," he said.