Compared with a batch of soybeans shipped to China from Brazil, which utilizes farm-to-market roads more frequently than the U.S., a batch of soybeans shipped to China from Iowa is about $35 cheaper per ton, aided by the availability of barges in the U.S., Toohey noted during the council’s annual press briefing, citing information provided by the House Transportation Committee.
During the briefing, held at the National Press Club in Washington, Toohey said his industry won’t accept inland waterway tolls and other user fees and taxes Trump’s plan is proposing on top of the existing $0.29 user fee assessed on fuels used on U.S. inland waterways, funds that flow into the Inland Waterways Trust Fund (IWTF).
The IWTF finances 50 percent of U.S. inland waterway capital improvement projects.
The proposed tolls would be determined by the investor or owner/operator of the toll facility, Toohey said.
“It would remove the operation and maintenance (O&M) function from the federal government, and put that on the users of the system,” he said. “We feel that provides inadequate protection of the public interest, especially when you have an unfettered ability to charge a total.”
Further, the tolls will drive traffic away from the competitive waterways system, meaning potentially “dire consequences” for the barge industry, Toohey said.
“We would urge the administration to come forth with economic analysis to assuage our concerns, to show us whether tolls can be reasonable, and whether taking on O&M can be affordable and still keep the waterways viable.”
Notwithstanding Trump’s infrastructure plan, WCI is urging that any resulting congressional legislation not impose tolls or lockage fees on the U.S. inland waterways transportation system, and that it treats O&M for waterways as a fully federal responsibility, according to briefing slides presented during the address.
WCI is also pushing Congress to change the standard federal cost-share ratio for waterway capital improvement projects from 50 percent federal funding/50 percent other funding, to 75 percent federal funding/25 percent other funding, Toohey said.
It is hoped that could be achieved either in the expected broad infrastructure bill or in the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2018, which the House could start marking up in April, he said.
But there remains widespread opposition in the waterways industry to Trump’s infrastructure proposal, and it’ll be a “herculean” task to go through debates with up to a dozen congressional committees that would have a stake in any overarching national infrastructure bill, Toohey mentioned.
Furthermore, there’s “a lot of anger” between lawmakers that could hinder advancement of any large infrastructure package, he said.
“And there’s an opportunity for the minority party to take over Congress,” Toohey added. “So why would it be in their interest to move a win for the Republican-controlled Congress and the Republican President? So you’ve got a lot of dynamics in there about moving the infrastructure bill.”