NEW YORK Transportation advocates and steel interests have lauded House approval of legislation intended to improve water resource infrastructure and fund port development.
The Water Resources Reform and Development Act, passed by a vote of 417 to three, joins a similar Senate bill passed earlier this year (amm.com, May 16). It now heads to a conference committee before being sent to President Obama for his signature.
The legislation increases funding for harbor maintenance and to update river locks used by barges, and reforms the delivery process of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
"Water infrastructure is critical to the steel industry, our nations business supply chain and to the economic competitiveness of our nation as a whole," Thomas J. Gibson, president and chief executive officer of the American Iron and Steel Institute, said. "Our industry relies heavily on seaports and inland waterways to move raw materials necessary for steelmaking, and to move finished steel products to market."
Much of the bill is designed to free money already authorized for waterways spending, according to Michael J. Toohey, president and chief executive officer of Arlington, Va.-based Waterways Council Inc. It would reform the Inland Waterways Trust Fund, which is supported by a tax on fuel use on inland waterways, to allow funds to flow to projects more efficiently, he said, and require funding for harbor maintenance to be increased each year until all incoming tax funds are spent on port modernization. Only half of the approximately $1.6 billion annual income flowing into the harbor maintenance fund is being used on port maintenance.
The Olmsted project, a construction program on locks and dams in Illinois and Kentucky, has faced several billion dollars in cost overruns and dominated Inland Waterways Trust Fund financing. The House bill would increase the proportion of federal funding for that project in order to free more of the $166 million in annual Inland Waterways Trust Fund income for other necessary projects that have been neglected.
The bill was sponsored by Rep. Bill Shuster (R., Pa.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.