Investing in Marine Transportation
The safety of the marine transportation system depends on a safe waterway infrastructure, including waterway maintenance, improvements, and management. Legislative support for the U.S. marine infrastructure should:
- Make maintenance dredging programs a priority. The safe and efficient movement of goods through the United States port system requires that channels be dredged and maintained at safe depths on a consistent basis. Among all the marine infrastructure activities, dredging programs, which facilitate commerce, must be given a priority for funding, and such funding must continue even while the harbor maintenance tax issue is discussed and debated.
- The average age of locks in the United States now exceeds 50 years. Many were built in the 1930s, with the newer generation built in the 1950s. As a result of aging infrastructure and under investment in modernization, delays, back-ups and added costs are common events for barges and tows traveling through inland waterway systems.
- Generate Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund revenue. It is critical to ensure that funds are consistently available for meeting marine infrastructure needs and that funds collected for that purpose are not diverted to any other program. Revenue earmarked for the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund should be obtained from a variety of sources. Because of the broad benefits provided by United States waterways, general revenues should contribute to the trust fund in large measure. A user fee covering a portion of harbor maintenance costs is also acceptable if the fees are paid by all beneficiaries, the size of fees are commensurate with the cost or value of the service rendered, and the beneficiaries have input into prioritization and fund allocation.
- Revise nautical charts. Hydrographic survey data, which is the basis for nautical charts, should be collected using the latest hydrographic survey equipment. All available resources, both public and private, should be fully utilized, without limits placed on the sources of certifiable survey data. Funding for this effort should be increased so that the survey backlog can be eliminated in the shortest possible timeframe consistent with sound resource allocation and management principles.
The Department of Transportation projects that international waterborne trade will at least double, and perhaps triple, by the year 2020. For the United States to meet this demand and continue to compete on an international basis, the maintenance and improvement of our waterways infrastructure should be a priority in Congress.
More than 95 percent of U.S. international trade by volume moves through our nation’s ports. According to a Senate report on the 2012 Energy and Water Development Committee appropriations bill, the Inland Waterways Trust Fund “provides one-half the costs of construction and rehabilitation of locks and dams on the Inland Waterways System. The system moves nearly 600 million tons of cargo annually. To move that amount of cargo on the Nation’s highways would require an additional 24 million trucks or 5.456 million rail cars.” While the Committee report acknowledges “modernization of this system is critical if the Nation expects to continue to benefit from this highly fuel efficient and low pollution transportation link,” little progress has been made by the Congress or the Administration to ensure funds are adequately allocated to inland waterway maintenance. Lack of prioritization of investment for the infrastructure, as well as a diverse set of regulators and stakeholders, has led to a system that can be inefficient, overly bureaucratic, and difficult to manage.
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