The necessity of maintaining, renewing and, where necessary, replacing America’s aging lock and dam infrastructure with more modern and efficient structures has been the tireless message of our inland marine industry advocates. Now, during the urgent economic necessities of the coronavirus crisis, there are more reasons than ever for making those arguments.
Even in the face of social distancing, lockdowns and other precautions to protect the public from the virus, the work of Congress goes on. The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and Senate Environment and Public Works committee are currently working on this year’s Water Resources Development Act (WRDA). Waterways Council Inc. is urging an important policy change within WRDA 2020.
Specifically, WCI is recommending that WRDA change the cost-share for inland waterways construction projects to 25 percent Inland Waterways Trust Fund (IWTF)/75 percent general revenue—the same split that deep-draft ports received in WRDA 2016. This can help to create more construction jobs for America’s building trades, and will more efficiently and cost-effectively address the portfolio of locks and dams in need of construction.
In past years, keeping a surplus of revenues in the IWTF was used as a budget-balancing accounting trick. But now that Congress has shown it is willing to spend what is necessary to revive the economy after the coronavirus crisis by passing a $2 trillion bill—by far the largest economic relief effort in U.S. history, with perhaps even more to come—such budget games seem pointless.
The arguments in favor of such a revised cost-share have always been strong. Now they are more urgent than ever. Working to bring these projects online and delivering transportation cost benefits to the nation is critical. Lock and dam projects employ hundreds of thousands of family-wage workers to help revive the economy, just as they did in the 1930s under the New Deal.
Changing the construction cost-share and providing enough investment to adequately fund authorized lock and dam projects isn’t just a short-term boost to American workers. The benefits and economic stimulus from improving locks and dams will extend far into the future.