“The future of the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) 2020 hangs in the balance,” Waterways Council Inc. stated in the latest edition of its Capitol Currents newsletter.
An election year always slows things down in Congress, and this year there are also intensely followed confirmation hearings for a Supreme Court Justice to further delay action on bills.
While there’s plenty of partisan bitterness on display this election year, waterways infrastructure issues have, thankfully, kept their traditional bipartisan status. This year’s Democratic Party platform includes a pledge to “upgrade our nation’s ports, lock and dam systems and freight infrastructure to accommodate 21st century cargo, reduce air and water pollution and create and maintain high-quality, good-paying jobs.”
LaGrange Lock and Dam on the Illinois River recently reopened, shortly after the reopening of Peoria Lock and Dam, part of a multi-million-dollar rehab and reconstruction project that will extend the lives of this vital grain artery. The consolidated closures provide an example of how federal collaboration with industry can make infrastructure better.
Committee chairs in Congress say they are working to finish this year’s WRDA before the end of the year and send it to President Donald Trump for his signature. Senate and House staffs are continuing preconference negotiations to resolve differences between the House and Senate versions. It’s not unheard of for WRDAs to be passed in a lame-duck session.
Ports and shipyards have benefitted from several rounds of federal grants this past year, with another round of $220 million in grants for ports just being announced by Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao. That’s all to the good, and necessary. But what’s needed more than grants alone is a long-term national infrastructure plan.
As the COVID-19 crisis drags on, more and more resources will be consumed in fighting it. That may be necessary and inevitable, but our locks and dams will continue to need major rehab and replacement regardless. Whatever happens in the election, we hope we won’t have to wait too long for a national plan.