Public and private sector organizations make investments and implement policies and programs in the Great Lake-St.Lawrence maritime transportation system to improve and sustain their use. Federal money is spent to dredge harbors and channels, break up ice, and maintain critical locks and other infrastructure, ensuring the maritime system functions smoothly. States and provinces develop waterfronts for greater access to maritime shipping and boost economic development. Private organizations use resources to improve their cargo capacity and efficiency through ship and onshore investments.

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Port Level Investments on the Maritime Transportation System

This section provides a brief overview of some of the recent public and private investments made at Maritime Transportation System (MTS) ports. This list is not comprehensive; instead it illustrates the wide range of investments that can be made to help increase trade and traffic, as well as the variety of funding sources that ports are using to fund these investments. Greater detail on state, provincial, and federal funding programs is provided at on the port infrastructure strategy page.

State and Provincial Maritime Plans

In addition to funding programs, some states and provinces have chosen to engage in strategic planning to identify maritime needs and issues, and guide investment in their systems. Some Maritime Transportation System (MTS) states and provinces created their own maritime-specific funding programs, which are often intended to help ports pay for infrastructure upgrades, or improve connections to highways and railroads. Currently, three states or provinces have maritime-specific plans or strategies, and all states and provinces also have more generalized freight transportation plans.

State and Provincial Port Infrastructure Investment Programs

Some Maritime Transportation System (MTS) states and created their own maritime-specific funding programs, which are often intended to help ports pay for infrastructure upgrades, or improve connections to highways and railroads. This investment page provides examples of unique state and provincial programs that are explicitly intended to support maritime investments, or which have supported maritime investments in the past.

Green Marine Environmental Certification

Green Marine is a voluntary environmental certification program for the maritime industry which is endorsed by a wide range of environmental groups and governments. Program participants such as shipowners, ports, terminals, Seaway corporations, and shipyards benchmark their annual environmental performance through exhaustive self-evaluation guides, which cover 12 performance indicators.

Green marine tracks the following performance indicators:

For ship owners:

U.S. Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) grants

The Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) grant program is administered by the US Department of Transportation’s Build America Bureau. It was originally established by the 2015 Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act (FAST), and is intended to support the renewal of deteriorating infrastructure. While INFRA is primarily highway- and bridge-focused, freight projects within the boundaries of ports or intermodal facilities are eligible.

Canada National Trade Corridors Fund (NTCF)

The National Trade Corridors Fund (NTCF) is part of the Government of Canada’s Transportation and Trade Corridors Initiative. This initiative was created in 2017 for the purpose of spending $10.1 billion (CAD) on transportation investments by 2028. The NTCF was allocated $2 billion (CAD) of that amount, and this $2 billion (CAD) in funding is being used to invest in strategic projects that:

U.S. Port Infrastructure Development Program

Congress created the Port Infrastructure Development Program in 2010, with the goal of supporting improvements to port infrastructure. The program is administered by the Maritime Administration (MARAD), and provides planning, stakeholder engagement, operational and capital financing, and project management assistance to ports and port stakeholders.

St. Lawrence Economic Development Council (SODES)

The St. Lawrence Economic Development Council (SODES) is a non-profit organization created in 1985 with the mission to “protect and promote the economic interests of the St. Lawrence maritime community from a sustainable development perspective.” Members of the organization include shipping carriers, ports, private terminals, provincial and federal governments, marine services and equipment suppliers, and marine industry associations.

Highway H2O

Highway H2O is a group of Maritime Transportation System (MTS) stakeholders who have partnered to promote maritime transportation and create a shared “brand” for maritime transportation on the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway. The program was created in 2003, and is sponsored by the St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation and St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation.  The program is also supported by a variety of members including ports, private terminal operators, vessel operators, stevedoring companies, and local economic development agencies.

U.S. Harbor Maintenance Tax and Fund

The US Harbor Maintenance Tax (HMT) was created by the Water Resources Development Act of 1986. The HMT is a means for the US government to raise funds to pay for the dredging and maintenance costs of US coastal and Great Lakes ports, and specifically the dredging of harbor channels to meet required shipping standards. Other maintenance costs paid for by the HMT include repair of breakwaters, and the operation of the Soo Locks.

Cruise the Great Lakes

The Regional Maritime Strategy noted that the cruise tourism could generate substantial economic benefits for the Great Lakes. Cruise the Great Lakes is a response to this potential market, and is an international partnership intended to bring more cruise passengers to the Great Lakes. The partnership was organized by the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Governors and Premiers in 2018, with the goal of creating a unique brand to market the Great Lakes to both consumers and cruise operators.

Cruise the St. Lawrence

Cruise the Saint Lawrence was created to promote cruise tourism in Quebec, and includes the nine cruise vessel ports of call on the St. Lawrence River. The main mandate of Cruise the Saint Lawrence is to build a brand for cruise tourism in the region by defining and coordinating development efforts and partner/port of call attributes.

Specific marketing materials and efforts from Cruise the St. Lawrence include:

Smart Ships Coalition

The Smart Ships Coalition was formed by the Great Lakes St. Lawrence Governors and Premiers, the Michigan Office of the Great Lakes, and Michigan Technological University (MTU) and includes academic, state and federal agencies, private and non-profit industry, and international organizations working to advance the development and application of autonomous technologies operated in marine environments.

Season Optimization

The Regional Maritime Strategy notes that some cargo is transported on the Great Lakes during the winter, but this activity is restricted in areas due to winter ice cover and relies on icebreaking services from the U.S. and Canadian Coast Guards. Additionally, the Soo Locks, Welland Canal, and Montreal-Lake Ontario sections of the Seaway are closed for maintenance during the winter preventing any international trade and much of the domestic trades.

Soo Locks Upgrades and Rehabilitation

The Soo Locks linking Lake Superior to the lower Great Lakes, particularly the Poe Lock, represent the single most critical navigation structure in the Great Lakes maritime transportation system (MTS). Some 80 million tons of cargo - primarily downbound iron ore for steel manufacturing, coal for electric power generation, and export grain - transit the Soo Locks annually.

U.S. Customs Clearance for Cruise Passengers

Cruise tourism on the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River is projected to grow in coming years and could generate economic benefits for communities hosting cruise vessels and businesses that support the industry. However, a lack of customs clearance facilities for cruise passengers and inconsistent application of customs regulations could hinder this expansion. Cruise operators, passengers, and port authorities require a consistent and efficient regulatory framework that can provide certainty and ensure the long-term viability and growth of regional cruising. The U.S.

Federal Investments in building additional icebreaking capacity

In the U.S., the 2019 federal appropriations bill included support to improve ice-breaking capacity on the Great Lakes by allocating $5 million to the research and design of a new Mackinaw Cruiser. Further funding will be required to build an additional icebreaker following its design.

In Canada, the federal government announced $15.7 billion (CAD) for Canada’s coast guard fleet renewal.

All-season buoys to improve navigation

Historically, navigation buoys in the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River Maritime Transportation System have been a high-maintenance component of MTS infrastructure. The ice coverage that largely closes navigation in the system for the winter months requires that buoys be deployed early each spring and retrieved in the late fall. To reduce the costs of this work, the Canadian federal government announced in October, 2018 that the Canadian Coast Guard had procured 184 four-season lighted navigation buoys at a cost of $12 million (CAD) to be deployed in the St.