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Easing of supply chain problems to start with backed-up seaports, White House says

In this file photo, a cargo ship makes its way down a river in Savannah, Georgia. The newly passed infrastructure bill may mean port cities across the U.S. see an influx of federal funding soon. (Paul Brennan/Pixabay)

Improvements for ports, highways, waterways and other facilities are expected to start soon, following passage of $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill

The first seaport to improve its facilities following passage of the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill could be in Savannah, Georgia, a senior Biden administration official said Tuesday.

President Joe Biden has yet to sign the measure, which Congress sent to Biden’s desk late last week, funding improvements in highways, transit, ports, waterways, airports and other infrastructure. But seaports facing historic backups from the pandemic are already making plans to put the money and policy changes to use.

“There’s work going on right now to actually get these projects teed up,” a senior administration official said on a background call with reporters Tuesday. Officials spoke on the condition they would not be named.

Port operators are planning to start many programs within 45 to 90 days through a variety of funding streams and policies the bill will provide, the official said.

Biden is scheduled to appear at the Port of Baltimore in Maryland on Wednesday to further promote the bill’s effects on shipping infrastructure. The pandemic has caused backups at seaports around the world, leading to major supply chain delays in the United States.

The administration expects the Port of Savannah, the nation’s third-busiest importer, to be the first to take advantage of a policy change allowing ports to redirect about $8 million in funding to immediately address supply chain challenges, the official said.

The Port of Savannah will use that power to convert existing facilities to temporary container yards in Georgia and North Carolina, freeing up space closer to the port itself, according to a White House fact sheet. Those facilities could be ready in as few as 30 days, the official said.

The administration will also make available $230 million in grants to ports and $13 million to improve navigable waterways within 45 days. An additional $475 million for ports and navigable waterways would be available in 90 days, the official said.

In the next three months, the administration will identify $3.4 billion in upgrades to inspection facilities at ports of entry handling international trade. The official said outdated customs inspection infrastructure “has clearly been a bottleneck.”

In addition to the relatively short-term funding, the administration announced plans to help the long-term flow of goods from ports. The bill will provide $110 billion for roads and bridges that the White House said could be “smartly deployed” to ease supply chain congestion.

The Transportation Department and the National Maritime Commission will request proposals to standardize data collection and sharing in the transportation supply chain. Private companies are responsible for most goods movement throughout the country, and don’t have a universal system for collecting and sharing data.

The White House said standardizing data would allow different companies to work together and create “greater transparency, resiliency, fluidity, competition, and efficiency across the supply chain.”

The Idaho Capital Sun is a nonprofit news organization delivering accountability reporting on state government, politics and policy in the Gem state.