MANATEE — Port Manatee officials Tuesday were not only celebrating the arrival of a new crane, but the first of what they hope will be two transportation grant awards that will increase container shipment business at the port.
Port Manatee along with the Port of Brownsville, Texas, will share $3.34 million in grant funds from the U.S. Department of Transportation — nearly half of the grant monies available.
The Cross Gulf Container Expansion Project, an existing container-on-barge service operating between the ports of Manatee and Brownsville, was one of eight projects designated in August to compete for $7 million in marine highway grant funds. There actually were 35 applicants, however, for the funds.
Steve Tyndal, senior director, trade development and special projects at the port, was excited about the news and the prospects for Port Manatee getting a second $25.78 million in Tiger 11 transportation grant funds.
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“The success of this project (Cross Gulf Container Expansion Project) demonstrates the environmental aspects and regional approach we have used and makes us confident that we will get a fair chance at winning some, if not all, of the (Tiger 11) grant we applied for,” he said.
The funds just approved will be used to purchase ramps for barges that will help with loading and unloading barges with more efficiency, Tyndal said. The port also will purchase a “reach stacker,” a piece of heavy equipment used to move containers around the port. The rest of the monies will be used to improve the barge already operating on the route by SeaBridge Freight and to buy another barge and a tugboat, which will be owned by the Port of Brownsville, he said.
The “green aspect” of the project is that it will provide an alternate mode of transportation for freight along the Interstate 10 highway between Florida and Texas.
“This will take congestion off the roadway by using this 927-mile water route through the Gulf,” Tyndal said.
The $400 million Tiger 11 funding awards are expected to be announced by Oct. 15. If the port gets any or all of the $25 million it is asking for, it will purchase two “green,” or less polluting, locomotives to move some of the 20,000 rail cars the port handles annually, Tyndal said. It will also complete phase 1 of Berth 12’s 32-acre container yard and extend Berth 12 from 1,000 feet to 1,584 feet. Port Manatee would provide $6 million in matching funds.
The benefit from the expansion will be increasing container service from Brownsville to five-day service instead of every 10 days, Tyndal said.
“Some of the customers who are on the fence right now because of the frequency of the service would get into the game,” he said.
County Commissioner Larry Bustle, also chair of the Port Authority, said the grant news was “pretty exciting.”
“It’s one more example of people realizing the value and potential of Port Manatee,” he said. “This is coming from the federal level and certainly will allow Port Manatee and Port of Brownsville to better serve Seabridge, which will expand our service.”