Bush budget proposal for inland waterways better than expected
Industry proponents for American inland waterway transportation were generally pleased with the Bush administration’s proposed fiscal 2006 budget for the Army Corps of Engineers Civil Works program, but cite some weaknesses.
The administration’s budget requests $4.513 billion for the Corps of Engineers’ operations next year. The request also includes spending $184 million from the Inland Waterways Trust Fund for the modernization of priority, congressionally approved locks and dams on the inland waterway system.
“We are in the early stages of evaluating budget request ' but we are very encouraged by the recognition of the administration’s continuing understanding of the critical value of this transportation system, while reflecting on the priorities of a nation at war,” said R. Barry Palmer, president and chief executive officer of the Washington-based Waterways Council, in a statement Tuesday.
The Corps of Engineers’ proposed budget will help accelerate priority projects, such as Olmstead Locks and Dam (Ohio River, Ill./Ky.); McApline Lock (Ohio River, Ind./Ky.); Marmet (Kanawha River, W.Va.); and Lower Monongahela River 2,3, and 4 (Pennsylvania). These major rehabilitation projects include Locks and Dams 11, 19 and 24 for the Upper Mississippi River, and the Emsworth Dam downriver from Pittsburgh’s Point on the Ohio River. The budget request also includes a request for reserve funds to perform emergency maintenance and repair work.
“These shutdowns ' have created significant avoidable economic loss to shippers and end users utilizing America’s waterways,” Palmer said. The emergency closures of the Greenup Locks and Dams on the Ohio River in October 2003 cost industry users an additional $73 million due to the unscheduled closures.
“Right now our infrastructure is literally crumbling before our eyes due to insufficient funding,” warned Worth Hager, president of the Arlington, Va.-based National Waterways Conference.
The Bush budget for the Corps of Engineers proposes suspending funding for projects that are in the early stages, such as Inner Harbor Navigation Lock Replacement (Louisiana); Kentucky Lock (Tennessee River, Ky.), and Chickamauga Lock (Tennessee River, Tenn.).
“While I knew the budget was going to be tight, I just can’t fathom OMB (Office of Management and Budget) jeopardizing our nation’s economic security by underfunding and terminating projects, particularly during a time of war,” Hager said. “Communities, stakeholders and contractors all over the country are crying foul.”
The U.S. inland waterway system is used by shippers to transport bulk commodities, such as coal, grain, petroleum and chemicals, valued at more than $31 billion a year.