The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) just released its much-anticipated Infrastructure Report Card. The group has released one every four years since the 1980s. This year’s report card is the first one in which the grade for every area of infrastructure either stayed the same or advanced slightly, and the first in which the overall grade is out of the “D” range, being given a C-. That said, 11 out of 17 categories of infrastructure still received some kind of “D”.
Ports received a B-, one of the highest grades of any category. The report notes that ports and port tenants plan to spend $163 billion between 2021 and 2025, up by more than $8 billion in the last four years. Investments are focused on capacity and efficiency enhancements as maximum vessel size has doubled over the last 15 years, and tonnage at the top 25 ports grew by 4.4 percent from 2015 to 2019. Federal funding has increased through multimodal competitive grant programs. Ports are at least keeping up with growing trade volumes. No doubt the publicity surrounding the expansion of the Panama Canal contributed to this investment.
The report noted the beginnings of progress on waterways infrastructure. The past few years have seen increases in lock and dam funding and the deepening of the Lower Mississippi River channel. The waterways grade increased slightly, if only to a D+.
In its recommendations for how to increase the waterways grade, the ASCE endorses our industry’s call to permanently change the cost-share for major construction and rehab projects. “Modify the cost sharing for future spending on construction and major rehabilitation projects to require 25 percent of the project cost to be paid for by the IWTF and the remaining 75 percent to be derived from the General Fund.”
Other waterways recommendations include:
• Give the Corps the authority to manage a project from start to finish and ensure sufficient and timely appropriations from Congress to avoid costly stop-and-start of construction that has traditionally taken place.
• Develop and implement a standardized measurement for delays on the system.
• Fund waterways projects at the authorized levels, and do so consistently, passing a Water Resources Development Act on a two-year cycle.
• Ensure that full use of the Inland Waterways Trust Fund continues to be appropriated.
• Increase the amount spent on operations and maintenance of the inland waterways each year by providing more robust appropriations, and consider a prioritization method that can more strategically direct limited funds to needy projects.
These are all points our waterways advocates have made many times. This report adds an influential voice to what we hope is an emerging consensus that should affect debate as Congress shapes the infrastructure package President Joe Biden has promised to “build back better.”