House WRRDA bill dips into inland waterway issues
The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee introduced its version of a Water Resources Reform Development Act reauthorization bill on Sept. 11, and was scheduled to debate, amend and rewrite the legislation on Sept. 19.
With today’s emphasis in Washington on streamlining government and reducing spending, H.R. 3080 includes many reform initiatives, including requiring the Army Corps of Engineers to speed up feasibility studies and recommendations for new harbor dredging and other projects. That’s why “Reform” is in the bill’s title.
For the first time in the 40-year history of WRDA, it would de-authorize $12 billion in inactive projects on the books to offset new authorizations. It also includes a seven-year sunset provision for projects to move forward or be taken off the Army Corps’ project list to prevent future backlogs.
The bill also increases the ability of states and other non-federal stakeholders to contribute their own funds to advance authorized studies and projects as well as the evaluation and processing of permits, and creates a Water Infrastructure Public Private Partnership program to help finance projects.
Groups representing waterway users, barge operators and tow boats said they want the committee to incorporate the WAVE 4 bill introduced earlier this year that would allow a 6-cent-per-gallon increase in user fees (from 20 cents) that go into the Inland Waterways Trust Fund and supports modernization of locks and dams. Fifty-seven percent of the locks and dams on the nation’s inland waterways system have exceeded their economic design life expectancy, and funding for needed maintenance and modernization has been flat or decreasing over the years. WAVE 4 would also apply objective criteria to prioritize construction and rehabilitation projects, direct the Army Corps to develop a 20-year capital investment program for waterways and preserve the 50-50 cost share formula between the trust fund and appropriations for expenditures on construction or rehabilitation.
Currently, the Olmstead lock and dam project, which is still not completed after 25 years, is sucking up the vast majority of the fuel tax revenues collected in the trust fund, creating a backlog in other projects. WRRDA would instead fund three-quarters of Olmstead’s work through appropriations and the balance with money from the trust fund to free up funding for other priorities without placing the full burden on the federal government.
WRRDA includes structural reforms to the planning process to prevent future situations like Olmsted, including requiring the use of certified project managers for all capital
Improvement projects on the inland waterways system, utilizing risk-based cost estimates, identifying best management practices to speed project delivery, and developing a portfolio of standard designs for inland navigation locks. To increase oversight, the Army Corps will be required to submit annual financial plans for any inland navigation project that costs more than $500 million.
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