America’s Marine Highway Program

The America’s Marine Highway System consists of over 29,000 nautical miles of navigable waterways including rivers, bays, channels, the Great Lakes, the Saint Lawrence Seaway System, coastal, and open-ocean routes. The Marine Highway Program works to further incorporate these waterways into the greater U.S. transportation system, especially where marine transportation services are the most efficient, effective, and sustainable transportation option. Click here for the Marine Highway Fact Sheet.


To lead the development and expansion of America’s Marine Highway services and to facilitate their integration into the U.S. surface transportation system.


The full integration of Marine Highway vessels and ports into the surface transportation system to ensure that reliable, regularly scheduled, competitive, and sustainable services are a routine choice for shippers.

Governing Legislation

The America’s Marine Highway Program was established by Section 1121 of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 to reduce landside congestion through the designation of Marine Highway Routes. Section 405 of the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act of 2012 further expanded the scope of the program beyond reducing landside congestion to efforts that generate public benefits by increasing the utilization or efficiency of domestic freight or passenger transportation on Marine Highway Routes between U.S. ports.

Program Description

The America’s Marine Highway Program is a Department of Transportation-led program to expand the use of our Nation’s navigable waterways to relieve landside congestion, reduce air emissions, and generate other public benefits by increasing the efficiency of the surface transportation system.

The Marine Highway Program does not develop or operate Marine Highway services. The private sector or state/local governments develop and operate Marine Highway services. The Program was designed to reduce landside congestion by integrating the commercially operated Marine Highway services into the nation’s surface transportation system. Once integrated, these Marine Highway services would connect seamlessly with all modes of transportation for freight and passengers, thus providing a convenient transportation alternative alongside congested landside transportation corridors.

Overall Benefits

The efficiency, flexibility, and system resiliency provided by our navigable waterways can benefit the United States public as a whole, but they are currently underutilized within the U.S. surface transportation system. One reason for that underutilization is that many of the benefits generated by Marine Highway services cannot be captured by individuals, such as reducing landside congestion or reduced system wear and tear. By acting to increase the use of the United States’ underutilized marine transportation assets, the America’s Marine Highways Program helps to generate these “public benefits” that are not normally considered by shippers. These public benefits include:

  • Creating and sustaining jobs in U.S. vessels and in U.S. ports and shipyards;
  • Increasing the state of good repair of the U.S. transportation system by reducing maintenance costs from wear and tear on roads and bridges;
  • Increasing our nation’s economic competitiveness by adding new, cost-effective freight and passenger transportation capacity;
  • Increasing the environmental sustainability of the U.S. transportation system by using less energy and reducing air emissions (such as greenhouse gases) per passenger or ton-mile of freight moved. Further environmental sustainability benefits come from the mandatory use of modern engine technology on designated projects;
  • Increasing public safety and security by providing alternatives for the movement of hazardous materials outside heavily populated areas;
  • Increasing transportation system resiliency and redundancy by providing transportation alternatives during times of disaster or national emergency;
  • Increasing national security by adding to the nation’s strategic sealift resources.

For a full list and explanation of the public benefits generated by increasing the use of the Marine Highway system, see pages 11-37 of the America’s Marine Highway Report to Congress (April 2011).

Marine Highway Routes

 The Marine Highway system currently includes 22 all-water Marine Highway Routes that serve as extensions of the surface transportation system and promote short sea transportation. Increasing the use of marine transportation on the commercially navigable waterways can offer relief to landside corridors that suffer from traffic congestion, excessive air emissions or other environmental concerns and challenges. Marine Highway Route recommendations can be made to the Department of Transportation at any time. Corridor recommendation information can be in found the Final Rule in the Federal Register.Marine Highway Routes include three categories, called corridors, connectors, and crossings. The 11 Marine Highway corridors are long, multi-state routes that parallel major national highways. The five Marine Highway connectors represent shorter routes that serve as feeders to the larger corridors, and the three Marine Highway crossings are short routes that transit harbors or waterways and offer alternatives to much longer or less convenient land routes between points.Designation of these Marine Highway Routes was the first step towards reducing landside congestion by focusing public and private efforts on increasing the amount of cargoes and passengers transported on commercially navigable waterways. As described above, the use of these waterways has the potential to provide other benefits in the form of reduced greenhouse gas emissions, energy savings and increased system resiliency.Please click on this link to view information on the individual Marine Highway Route: Click here for Route Descriptions.

Marine Highway Projects

The Marine Highway Open Season “Call for Projects” was published in June 2014 and is currently open. The Office of Marine Highways will review applications on a rolling basis every 6 months until June 30, 2016.

There are eight projects that were designated in 2010. These projects represent new or expanded Marine Highway services that have the potential to offer public benefits and long-term sustainability without long-term Federal support. These projects receive preferential treatment for any future federal assistance from the Department of Transportation and MARAD. The projects will help start new businesses or expand existing ones to move more freight or passengers along America’s coastlines and waterways. The services have the potential to reduce air pollution and traffic congestion along surface corridors as well as provide jobs for skilled mariners and shipbuilders.

A “Call for Projects” is held periodically and notices are published through the Federal Register. A past notice of Solicitation of Applications for Marine Highway Projects was published in the Federal Register on April 15, 2010. The projects were selected from among 35 applications from ports and local transportation planning agencies received by the Maritime Administration (MARAD).  Please click here to view previously designated Marine Highway Projects.

Successful applications for Marine Highway Project status all included a benefit-cost analysis (BCA), as explained in the Marine Highways Program Final Rule. This type of analysis was also required for TIGER discretionary grant applications, and the BCA instructions in the TIGER IV Discretionary Grant Notice of Funding Availability and Tiger BCA Guidance are thus useful reference materials for Marine Highway project applicants. Applicants can also e-mail the Marine Highway Program team at to request an example calculations spreadsheet for use in their BCA.

Marine Highway Initiatives

In addition to the 8 Marine Highway projects, the Secretary designated six Marine Highway initiatives. The Marine Highway services proposed in the initiatives were not developed to the level required to receive project designation, but the proposals demonstrated the potential for becoming a successful Marine Highway project in the future. Although they were not eligible to compete for Marine Highway Grants, these Marine Highway initiatives received continuing support from the Department of Transportation developing the concepts through conduct of research, market analysis and other efforts to identify the opportunities they may present. Initiatives are designated through an application process discussed in the Solicitation of Applications for Marine Highway Projects. Applicants designated by the Secretary will receive additional support from the Department through the Office of Marine Highways. Please click on this link to view the Marine Highway Initiatives: Click here for Marine Highway Initiative Descriptions.

Marine Highway Grants

The first round of Marine Highway Grants was awarded in September 2010. Should additional funding be made available, a notice in the Federal Register will be published. Please click on the attached Notice of Funding Availability for additional information concerning Marine Highway Grants: Guidance on applying for Marine Highway Grants.

Additional Resources

America’s Marine Highways are supported in several ways, including through reports and publications from government and academia. Refer to the Program’s Reference Library for more information.

If you are a member of a Regional or National Marine Highway Committee, or would like to join one, please e-mail us so we can assist you.

List of non funding related assistance offered by the Office of Marine Highways and Passenger Services.

Additional Information

For additional information, please e-mail the Office of Marine Highways and Passenger Services at