A Positive Outlook for a Water Resources Development Act in 2013
Inland Port Magazine
2013 Issue II
By Michael J. Toohey, WCI President/CEO
The organization of the House and Senate for the 113th Congress is
complete and the changes are very encouraging for the inland
waterways transportation stakeholders.
In the House of Representatives, Congressman Bill Shuster has
ascended to the Chairmanship of the Transportation and
Infrastructure Committee. Mr. Shuster represents a Congressional
District which includes the Monongahela and Ohio Rivers near
Pittsburgh. He has already visited the aging infrastructure,
touring by tow boat. Speaker John Boehner has also tasked Mr.
Shuster with finding more revenue for infra-structure investment.
Chairman Shuster's team includes Subcommittee on Water Resources
Chairman Bob Gibbs of Ohio who returns for a second term
leading the Subcommittee. He focused attention last Congress on
the overruns at Olmsted and is supportive of the proposals of the
Capital Development Plan.
This year, the Committee Chairman has actively reached out to the
Ranking Democratic Member, Congressman Nick Rahall of West
Virginia. Representative Rahall is also a strong proponent of
inland waterways transportation.
In appearances before the Chamber of Congress and in private
meetings, Chairman Shuster has identified as a major challenge the
need to educate the newer Members of Congress on the importance of
the Inland Waterways and need to increase the user fees needed to
modernize the system.
On the Senate side, Louisiana Senator David Vitter has assumed the
Ranking position on the Environment and Public Works Committee. He
is also a vital supporter of the waterways which are critical to
his state's economic vitality. Other Senate Waterways Champions
include members of the key Environment and Public Works Committee:
Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS), Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL), Senator
John Boozman and Senator James Inhofe.
On the Appropriations Committee Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) is
advocating the removal of the Olmsted project from the Inland
Waterways Trust Fund and funding the completion of the dam feature
of the project from general revenues. He also advocates an 11 cent
increase in the waterways user fee which will create an investment
program of approximately $220 million per year to modernize the
system. Senator Alexander is working with the Environment and
Public Works Committee to include his proposal on Olmsted in the
WRDA 2013 legislation being developed by the committee.
In the Senate, Senator Robert Casey (D-PA) has been awarded a seat
on the Finance Committee which will consider legislation to
increase the waterways user fee in this session of Congress. In
mid-February, Senator Casey also introduced S. 407 — The
Reinvesting in Vital Economic Rivers and Waterways (RIVER) Act of
2013. The bill was co-sponsored by Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA)
and Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN). S. 407 would establish a
sustainable, cost-effective way to ensure that the inland and
intracoastal waterways of the United States remain economically
The bill would modernize America's inland waterways system, create
jobs, relieve traffic congestion, and optimize American
competitiveness through the most low-cost, energy-efficient
The River Act of 2013 is based on elements contained in the Inland
Waterways Capital Development Plan to:
More specifically, the River Act would preserve the existing
50% industry/50% federal cost-sharing formula for new lock
construction and major lock rehabilitation projects.
- Prioritize the completion of navigation projects across
the entire waterways system;
- Improve the Corps of Engineers' project management and
processes to better deliver projects on time and on budget, in
order to realize $8 billion in job creation;
- Reform project cost allocations;
- Recommend an affordable – and increased -- user fee
funding mechanism to meet the system's needs, and,
- Realize a sustainable annual appropriation of $380
mil-lion, of which a significant portion is paid for by
commercial users of the system.
It would include a cost-share cap on lock construction projects to
incentivize keeping projects on budget and prevent shippers from
bearing the burden of paying for unreasonable cost overruns. This
will strengthen the ability of the Inland Waterways Trust Fund to
fund more priority projects in the pipeline.
It will also increase by 45% (nine cents per gallon) the existing
fuel tax of 20-cents-per-gallon that is paid by the barge and
towing industry, the only users of the system who currently are
taxed. At the same time, the recommended reforms to the Corps of
Engineers' project management and delivery process would ensure
that these additional resources are spent wisely.
WCI's Executive Committee unanimously endorsed the plan and the
association applauds Senators Casey, Landrieu and Klobuchar's
efforts in devising the River Act that will modernize our
critically important inland navigation system and its
infrastructure. Modern waterways are critical to U.S.
competitiveness in the world market, to environmental
protection, to energy efficiency, to highway congestion relief and
to the sustainment of well-paying American jobs.
They benefit the U.S. agricultural sector, our construction
industry, our energy sector, our environment, our economy, and all
the beneficiaries of the nation's waterways system.
With this Senate (S. 407) bill now introduced, and announcements
by both the Senate EPW Committee and the House T&I Committee
that WRDA is their number one legislative priority, 2013 is
aligning as the year the inland waterways
transportation system receives the critical support needed to
transform into a modern, efficient and reliable network.