Ships instead of trucks
The Providence Journal
01:00 AM EDT on Thursday, May 1, 2008
clogging of roadways is a feature of life in the Northeast, adding
to the cost of goods, wasting time and fuel, and spewing pollution.
Route 95 between Washington and Boston, "the Main Street
of the East Coast," is the prime example.
Long an inconvenience, heavy traffic on Route 95 is now creating
enormous problems. In December a massive accident, in East Lyme,
Conn., involving a diesel tanker truck, a tractor-trailer and
four autos, killed three and spilled 9,000 gallons of diesel fuel.
It blocked traffic on Route 95 for 20 hours.
Much of the congestion and hazard can be traced to the freight-hauling
18-wheelers coming out of the Port of New York and New Jersey,
the most important terminus for containerized cargoes in the Northeast.
Trucks loaded with containerized cargoes pour onto Route 95 whenever
a ship from China or Rotterdam or Singapore unloads its cargo
in or around Gotham, leading to what insiders call the "Hudson
In addition to the traffic, transporting cargoes over the road
is monumentally inefficient and polluting, and imposes heavy wear
and tear on the roadways. Transporting cargo by train would be
better, but the Northeast Corridor, which parallels Route 95,
is devoted largely to Amtrak, which serves the noble purpose of
getting people and cars off Route 95. (The East Coast urgently
needs more rail lines.)
rail and road infrastructure outside of New York City is nearing
capacity, and there is no ready prospect of improvement
or even a particularly good idea of how to go about it. A plan
to double-deck Route 95 along much of its length through Connecticut
was hooted down by affluent residents of Fairfield County. As
the deterioration of the Route 95 bridge over the Blackstone River
in Pawtucket shows, there is evidence of the infrastructure's
alarming decay. The result is economic stagnation.
There is an alternative, however, that would get hundreds of trucks
off the highway every day. The very underused ports of southeastern
New England Providence, Quonset, Fall River and New Bedford
are promising transshipment points for cargoes from New
York to points elsewhere in New England. Tugs and barges, or better,
a fleet of small, fast container ships, would unload overseas
containers from sea-going container ships in New York, and bring
them east through Long Island and Block Island sounds to ports
in Narragansett Bay or Buzzards Bay, where they would be loaded
onto trucks and trains. A barge can carry 150 containers, an 18-wheeler
just one. They would also pick up cargoes bound overseas for transshipment
to New York.
a group organized by the Washington-based Short Sea Cooperative
Program, representing shipping interests in the region, toured
the Port of Providence and liked what it saw. Providence is drawing
the most attention because it is a transportation hub with an
extensive highway and rail infrastructure for dispersing cargoes
throughout New England; Quonset is a close second.
In Providence, the shore-side infrastructure that the plan requires
is largely in place. The port, with its piers, mile-long bulkhead
and recently redredged channel, now chiefly used underused,
more accurately for such bulk cargoes as scrap metal, pulpwood
and road salt, has plenty of space for loading trucks and trains.
Because containers would be rolled off barges or specially designed
ships, there would be no need for the looming overhead cranes
(which we rather like, actually) that are a feature of most container
main infrastructure that would need to be developed is the fleet
of fast, maneuverable and fuel-efficient ships to carry the containers
from New York. That could have the added benefit of helping revitalize
our region's once vibrant shipbuilding business.
Short-sea shipping, which has an extensive track record in Europe,
is a relatively new concept in America, but has great promise
to make commerce in the region safer, more energy-and-time-efficient
and less environmentally damaging.