The Marine Transportation System

The MTS is concerned with the intermodal movement of cargo and people as well as the water and land infrastructure that make it possible. It neither is exclusively marine nor always limited to the confines of a port area.  It is the modal elements and corridors that in combination comprise a significant portion of the national freight transportation system.

It is how Iowa corn travels to Asia, German beer finds its way to Detroit, and home heating oil gets from a Delaware River refinery to homes in Maine.

Port terminals and vessels are common elements of the MTS. It is a system that in some places shows signs of capacity strain, particularly in America’s major gateway regions. In other parts of the country the MTS is underutilized with room to expand.

In 1999, Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater initiated a discernment process focused on the newly minted topic of the “marine transportation system.” It was intended to give attention to a largely ignored modal region. It became apparent that examining the maritime sector alone would be insufficient. After all, the trip from one port to another was only part of the journey taken by material transported in an ocean container or a ship’s hold. The closer they looked, the marine transportation system proved to be an interconnected, multimode system. What’s more, the stove-piped approach in Federal programs and the agencies did not resemble the transportation sector.

What was started in one administration was continued by the next. Stakeholders were asked to form the Secretary’s Marine Transportation System National Advisory Council. One of the early challenges of the MTSNAC after the attacks of September 11th was to help the government determine how the global supply chain could be made secure without disrupting the system of commerce.

Then the interagency Committee on the Marine Transportation System was created by White House executive order to assemble the many agencies that have varying degrees of responsibility and interest in marine transportation. In 2005, President Bush elevated the CMTS to Cabinet level status, which was maintained by President Obama. More recently the Congress gave the CMTS its own statutory life, further validating the mission of policy coordination and problem solving among the transportation, defense, natural resource and other agencies. [Read more about the CMTS.]

The condition and effectiveness of the MTS has become so vital to cargo owners, once ambivalent about highway bills and projects, that today they are advocates for local port improvements and national infrastructure policy.

PHB Public Affairs has observed and participated with responsible federal agencies and offices in the development of the MTS as a policy area and government response to a changing industry.