In an interview with Northwest Yachting late last year, they asked what maritime stories I saw taking shape in 2024.
One thing that immediately came to mind: the significant amounts of federal infrastructure funding, a result of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, making its way to local and regional hubs.
In November, the maritime division of the U.S. Department of Transportation announced funding for 41 port improvement projects.
The largest grant, $54 million, is heading to the Port of Tacoma. Long Beach, the largest West Coast port by tonnage, received a $52 million grant.
The ports of Tacoma and Seattle collaborate through the Northwest Seaport Alliance, helping them compete on the global and national trade stage.
This was a big win for NWSA. The funding supports expanding Husky Terminal, which sits along the Blair Waterway in Tacoma.
About a month after the funding announcement, the Port executed a design agreement with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to deepen that same waterway, a “critical milestone” in a process that started at least a decade ago.
It helps that Washington Senator Maria Cantwell is very much involved in this funding process, as head of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. According to a Department of Commerce press release, she not only authored provisions in the law but also six of the programs dispersing grants — including this "Port Infrastructure Development Program."
The $54 million in funding is dedicated to expanding one of Tacoma's container terminals by reconfiguring the terminal yard, adding more capacity for refrigerated containers and improving overall efficiency. The project also "advances port resilience as its design accounts for sea level rise and storm surge," according to the DOT announcement.
This is where we get to the second part of my 2024 prediction: the next step will be seeing how the funding is used and if it helps achieve the ambitious infrastructure and environmental goals as intended.
NWSA’s next step, besides some major infrastructure projects, will be testing if they can balance expansion with their environmental target of reaching zero emissions by 2050 or earlier. Beyond frequent mentions of "efficiency," the expansion project aims to reduce truck idling times and power that additional refrigeration through a "renewable energy grid."
The impact of this port-focused funding is not limited to Tacoma, either. Seven Alaskan port projects received funding as well as three in Oregon.
Husky Terminal was the only Washington port project included in this particular grant. However, other Washington maritime hubs have received infrastructure funding, largely for terminal and ferry upgrades.
The Port of Tacoma has other growth plans in the works too, such a new maritime skills center. If you're curious to learn more or see the scope of these facilities, the port offers several kinds of tours.