The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee unanimously agreed May 25 to advance the Water Resources Development Act of 2016, clearing for consideration by the full House the second major water projects bill in two years.
It would authorize 28 new lock, harbor and flood control infrastructure projects worth $5 billion, and offset that cost by deauthorizing $5 billion worth of old projects Congress had approved but which were not built. The new projects are those that have already been vetted for funding by the Army Corps of Engineers.
A number of state departments of transportation have direct roles in supporting their deep-water or river barging seaports. In addition, putting heavy cargoes such as bulk commodities on waterways can take some pressure off highway and rail systems, and flood control projects protect highway and transit infrastructure that DOTs maintain.
Passing WRDA through the committee achieved a major goal of T&I Chairman Bill Shuster, R-Pa., who along with other relevant House and Senate committee leaders had pledged to put water projects legislation back on a two-year cycle when they pushed through the 2014 measure that was the first since 2007.
"WRDA 2016 gets Congress back to basics and the business of regularly addressing the needs of our ports, waterways, lock and dam systems, flood protection, and other infrastructure," Shuster said in a statement after his committee acted.
Ranking T&I Member Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., said: "This legislation will create and sustain jobs, strengthen our coastal communities, and ensure that funds collected in the Harbor Maintenance Fund will be used for their intended purpose – harbor maintenance."
Congress has traditionally used some money collected by the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund on other budget areas, but the House bill would end that practice by fiscal 2027.
The Waterways Council, which represents the barge industry, praised the committee for rejecting proposed lockage fees or river traffic tolls to finance public-private partnerships. That group favors the current method of funding lock projects through a tax on fuel used by towboats that push the barges.
The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee approved its version of WRDA on April 28. Once the two chambers complete action on their versions, the House and Senate committee leaders can negotiate a final bill for congressional passage.
Kurt Nagle, president of the American Association of Port Authorities, said: "Ensuring the viability and effectiveness of our nation's deep-draft navigation infrastructure is fundamental to a sound economy. WRDA 2016 helps do that by getting Congress back to the business of regularly addressing the needs of our ports and other waterway infrastructure."
Nagle also urged "both the House and Senate to bring their respective WRDA bills to the floor as soon as possible to ensure final legislation is enacted this year."