Trump’s Infrastructural Promises and the U.S. Maritime Transportation Industry

Region remembers life at Hales Bar Dam, Navigation Lock

Tulane University Law student

*By Gordon Lamphere.  Gordon is a Notes & Comments Editor for the Tulane Maritime Law Journal. Gordon is a member of the Tulane University Law School Class of 2017 and Graduate of St. Mary’s College of Maryland. He is a former professional sailor with a passion for maritime law, business, and policy.

Possibly no executive transition of power in recent memory has yielded greater uncertainty as to future policy than the election of Donald Trump. Some speculate a Trump presidency will vastly shift US environmental, trade, and transportation policy including:[i] the Federal Maritime Commission adopting stricter policies against shipping alliances, fixing enforcement issues with Harbor Maintenance Fees, reformation of the Jones Act, and implementing a protectionist trade policy.[ii] While some industries appear fearful of a Republican White House;[iii] in the two days after the election the Dow Jones Marine Transportation Index rose 6.54%.[iv]  Still, President-elect Trump’s inconsistent statements on the campaign trail raise significant doubt as to what the policy goals of the new administration will be. The question becomes what impact will a Trump presidency have on the shipping industry?

At this point, Trump’s transition team and campaign statements emphasize investment in American “infrastructure.”[v] Furthermore, the Department of Transportation under a Trump administration will be occupied by several prominent Washington insiders and lobbyists.[vi] Still, the Trump administration is unclear both on how the government will pay for infrastructure improvements, and precisely what sectors of America’s infrastructure will be improved.[vii] To fund a renewal of America’s infrastructure, Trump has suggested both federal funding supported by low-interest loans, or a combination of federal and private sector investment backed by tolls, fees, and tax credits.[viii] Even through Trump’s one trillion dollar plans have significant support from Democrats, conservatives within the president’s party are hesitant to back a program similar to Obama’s $832 million stimulus package.[ix] Second, with few specifics, time will be necessary to determine what parts of America’s infrastructure a Trump administration will seek to improve.[x]

Based on political necessity and the makeup of Trump’s transition team, what sectors of infrastructural development will the new administration likely address? Noticeably absent from President-elect Trump’s post-election pledge to revamp America’s infrastructure was the mention of America’s ports and inland waterways. Due to political considerations, Washington insiders suggest federal transit dollars are likely headed to fund highways in Republican or swing districts.[xi] Presidents rarely address the topic of maritime infrastructure development, and as a consequence, the industry has developed an active lobbying presence for congressional leadership.[xii] With maritime infrastructure development serving as a bipartisan point of agreement, port and waterway funding will likely find its way earmarked into congressional funding.[xiii]

The maritime transportation industry is excited by the prospect of government intervention in America’s failing and underfunded infrastructure. [xiv] Improvements could provide the boost US shippers on land, air, and sea, need to participate in an increasingly globalized and complex system of trade networks. Improvements to America’s currently failing infrastructure would allow American transportation, energy and manufacturing industries to avoid costs associated with structural inefficiency.[xv] Consequently, U.S. Shippers should be cautiously optimistic that President-elect Trump will keep his promise to introduce legislation for transportation funding, even though economic and political circumstances make a one trillion dollar infrastructure investment bill unlikely.


To see more about America’s ports waterways, and maritime infrastructure see:

Yen T. Mai, Progress Be Dammed: The Eighth Circuit Limits S 408 of the Rivers and Harbors Act to in Rem Recovery, Aggravating Crumbling Infrastructure on Inland Water Shipping Routes, 40 Tul. Mar. L.J. 531 (2016).

Michael Dehart, Harbor Depth and Taxes: A Critical Examination of the Future of the Harbor Maintenance Tax, 38 Tul. Mar. L.J. 193 (2013).



[i] Bill Murray, Donald Trump’s Election Jolts Energy and Environmental Policy Real Clear Politics (2016), (last visited Nov 12, 2016).

[ii] Olaf Merk, How Donald Trump’s Maritime Transport Agenda Might Look (2016),

[iii] Analysts Fear ‘Volatile’ Economy – and Perhaps Recession – Under Trump (2016)

[iv] U.S. Shipping Stocks Sure Are Liking Donald Trump’s Presidency Win, GCaptain (2016), (last visited Nov 12, 2016).

[v] Chuck Devore, Where Clinton And Trump Stand On Transportation Forbes (2016), (last visited Nov 11, 2016).

[vi] Eric Lipton, Trump Campaigned Against Lobbyists But Now They Are On His Transition Team New York Times (2016), (last visited Nov 11, 2016).

[vii] Melanie Zanona, House transportation chair: Trump hasn’t outlined infrastructure plans, but is committed to issue The Hill (2016), (last visited Nov 12, 2016).

[viii] Doug Newcomb, Trump’s Answer To Fixing Country’s Transportation Infrastructure: Use Other People’s Money Forbes (2016), (last visited Nov 11, 2016).

[ix] Kathryn A Wolfe & Lauren Gardner, Conservatives vs Trump’s Infrastructure Plan Politico (2016), (last visited Nov 11, 2016).

[x] Industry pins hopes on Trump delivering freight infrastructure boost, JOC (2016), (last visited Nov 10, 2016).

[xi] Laura Bliss, What U.S. Transportation Policy Could Look Like Under Trump, City Lab (2016), (last visited Nov 11, 2016).

[xii] Pamela Glass, Trump and the waterways: What’s ahead?, WorkBoat (2016), (last visited Nov 11, 2016).

[xiii] Id.

[xiv] See Yen T. Mai, Note, Progress Be Dammed: The Eighth Circuit Limits S 408 of the Rivers and Harbors Act to in Rem Recovery, Aggravating Crumbling Infrastructure on Inland Water Shipping Routes, 40 Tul. Mar. L.J. 531 (2016).

[xv] Failure to Act: Closing the Infrastructure Investment Gap for America’s Economic Future, Infrastructure Report Card, (last visited Nov 11, 2016).