Waterways Journal Editorial
WJ Editorial

Forging Ahead On Waterways Infrastructure

Finally, after months of cliff-hanging drama, the House of Representatives approved H.R. 3684, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, otherwise known as the “hard infrastructure” bill. The bill passed 228 to 206. It was approved by the Senate earlier in the year, so it is now headed to President Joe Biden to be signed into law.

Congress apparently listened to at least one message sent by the off-year elections on November 6, which one member summarized as, “People want Congress to get things done.” This meant Democratic Party leaders had to abandon their attempts to link the infrastructure bill with a much bigger bill containing its social spending priorities. We’ve always maintained that waterways infrastructure is a worthy bipartisan cause that should stand on its own and not be held hostage to other, more divisive agendas. 

Waterways Council Inc. (WCI) praised the infrastructure bill for its “historic $2.5 billion of 100 percent federal funding” that it provided for construction and major rehabilitation of inland waterways projects. Capital Investment Strategy (CIS) navigation projects will be given priority. “When $2.5 billion is coupled with annual appropriations over the next five years, two-thirds of the CIS portfolio could potentially be funded to completion,” WCI said. 

Project-specific funding—which the Corps had already been working on in anticipation of the bill being passed—will be spelled out in a detailed spending plan by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ chief of Engineers that must be submitted to the House and Senate no later than 60 days after enactment. Starting no later than 120 days after enactment of the bill, the chief of Engineers has to provide a monthly report to the appropriations committees of the House and the Senate, detailing the allocation and obligation of funds and new construction projects selected to be initiated. 

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The Corps’ operations and maintenance account for all business line items within its civil works mission will receive $4 billion in the bill, according to WCI. Inland waterways projects and dredging are eligible to compete for funding to be allocated in a Corps spending plan. 

Unscheduled lock outages have already been steadily declining due to increased levels of funding in recent years, as a Waterways Symposium presentation by the Corps pointed out. More still needs to be done. Thanks to Congress, the Corps now has an opportunity to bring the waterway system up to the operational level our nation deserves. All Americans will benefit. Farmers, especially, are welcoming the news. “A number of the key provisions of the bill—specifically the $110 billion in funding for roads and bridges and the $17 billion for ports and waterways—will clearly enhance the competitiveness of U.S. agriculture,” said Mike Steenhoek, executive director of the Soy Transportation Coalition. 

Echoing words used by a Corps of Engineers program manager at the symposium, WCI said, “This [bill] provides a once-in-a- generation opportunity to modernize the nation’s inland waterways transportation system to provide energy security, increase global competitiveness and further improve our environmental footprint.”