The Delaware River Port Authority last week approved a plan to give the Port of Philadelphia exclusive right to accommodate a new breed of ships that are designed to greatly reduce the travel time for trans-Atlantic freight.

The authority's board voted to spend $7 million to help finance design and construction of the new ships. If preliminary testing over the next several years goes well, the authority would probably invest an additional $70 million for docking facilities.

Last week's agreement with the ships' developer, FastShip Atlantic, would make Philadelphia the nation's exclusive Atlantic port to accommodate the ships, which are designed to carry jet engines adapted for ocean-going ships. The ships' hulls are specially designed to rise out of the water as speeds increase. Conventional ships dive deeper with increasing speed, causing greater resistance.

Early estimates say the new ships could dramatically cut trans-Atlantic travel time.

A potential bonus for Philadelphia could come if a preliminary proposal being explored by local officials is approved to build the new ships at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, which the Navy has targeted for closing.

Feuding among board members of the bi-state agency had threatened to scuttle the FastShip proposal.

The dispute began earlier this month when Pennsylvania members refused to approve an annual subsidy to PATCO, a New Jersey commuter rail line. New Jersey members retaliated by refusing to approve the FastShip proposal. After a compromise resolved the PATCO issue, both sides agreed to the FastShip plan.

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