Port officials have their fingers crossed that two federal transportation grant applications will be approved to go ahead with millions of dollars in improvements to attract more container business here.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood Wednesday announced his selection of marine highway corridors and an initial eight projects and six initiatives along the corridors that will be eligible for federal assistance.
One of the projects is the Cross Gulf Container Expansion between Port Manatee and the Port of Brownsville, Texas, which will be eligible to compete for $7 million in federal grant funds.
A partnership between Port Manatee and Port of Brownsville is aiming to increase container traffic between the ports by making infrastructure improvements, said Steve Tyndal, senior director, trade development and special projects at the port.
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Funds for the project
With another $400 million available in Tiger II transportation funding, Tyndal said Port Manatee plans to apply for $32 million to complete phase 1 of Berth 12’s 32-acre container yard and extending Berth 12 from 1,000 feet to 1,584 feet. This will accommodate the larger 965-foot container ships the port is trying to attract, he said.
The secretary’s announcement including the Port Manatee project in the mix was important, Tyndal said.
“This is significant news in the maritime industry,” he said, but admitted “it is still going to be incredibly competitive.”
Port Manatee had originally applied for $36.1 million of the $1.5 billion in available discretionary funds from the transportation department the first of the year but did not make the cut.
This time, the application has been modified and the funds available “are more specifically for the types of projects we are proposing,” Tyndal said.
Decision due soon
The application is due Aug. 23 and an announcement is expected Sept. 30. The grant includes a 20 percent match from Port Manatee.
“I’m really happy about that,” said County Commissioner Larry Bustle, when he learned about the corridor designation Wednesday. Bustle is chairman of the port authority board. “I’m pleased because that particular corridor is very important to us.”
SeaBridge Freight will provide container-on-barge service between Port Manatee and the Port of Brownsville.
The company will make Port Manatee its headquarters for the new operation and will focus on a variety of containerized and over-sized, over-weight cargos including steel coils, tile, automobiles, car tires, auto batteries, consumer goods, U.S. Government freight, aluminum ingots, resins, consumer goods, heavy equipment and manufacturing assemblies.