Position Papers

Short Sea Shipping


Encourage short sea shipping by enacting a narrow exemption from the Harbor Maintenance Tax for non-bulk cargoes moved on the Great Lakes.


In recent years, transportation planners have been struggling to identify ways to move people and goods more efficiently while reducing the effects on the environment. Congested highways, particularly in urban areas, hinder the flow of commerce and hamper North America’s economic growth. Likewise, rail capacity is limited or at capacity in many areas. Expansion of highway and rail infrastructure is expensive (more than $30 million for a mile of 4-lane highway; $4 million for a mile of rail), difficult, time consuming, and a further reduction in dwindling green space. The European Union faced these same challenges years ago and determined that waterborne commerce offered the best solution.

A number of new short-distance shipping services have been proposed in the Great Lakes region. In each case, the goal has been to relieve highway or border congestion and move commerce more efficiently. New short sea shipping services on the Great Lakes are likely to take the form of truck ferries and feeder services.

The Problem:

The Harbor Maintenance Tax is a key impediment to launching new short sea shipping services. The tax is only assessed if the cargo moves by vessel, so it serves as a disincentive to move trucks and their payloads by water. In reality, the tax actually encourages greater highway and rail use, which leads to more congestion, fuel consumption, and air pollution.

Regional Benefits:

Great Lakes highways and rail lines are struggling to meet the current needs of commerce, let alone handle projected increases in traffic. Increased waterborne commerce on the Fourth Sea Coast will ease some of the burdens on the land-based transportation modes while increasing use of the greenest form of transportation. It is a proven fact vessels burn significantly less fuel and produce fewer emissions than trains or trucks. Increased short sea shipping will also create many new jobs for port workers.


Support legislation that provides an exemption from the Harbor Maintenance Tax for non-bulk cargo moving between U.S. ports and between U.S. and Canadian Great Lakes ports.