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American Shipper

Reps introduce waterways funding bill

   The Waterways Council, Inc. (WCI) on Friday lauded a bipartisan bill introduced by seven Congressmen aimed at modernizing the lock and dam infrastructure of the U.S. waterways system.
   The bill, “Waterways are Vital for the Economy, Energy, Efficiency, and Environment Act of 2012” — or WAVE4, is sponsored by Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-KY), along with co-sponsors Rep. Jerry Costello (D-IL), Rep. John Duncan (R-TN), Rep. Tim Johnson (R-IL), Rep. Robert Alderholt (R-AL), Rep. Terri Sewell (D-AL) and Rep. Russ Carnahan (D-MO).
   The bill incorporates aspect of WCI’s Capital Development Plan, which aims to reprioritize limited national funding for the replacement of key inland locks and dams.
   “The bill will address the critical needs of the inland waterways system, create American jobs, enable growth in U.S. exports, and continue to fuel multiple economic benefits that our waterways generate,” WCI said. “The Capital Development Plan applies objective criteria to prioritize essential construction and major rehabilitation projects, revises current beneficiaries’ cost-sharing for these projects, reforms the Corps of Engineers’ internal project delivery process, and suggests a revenue enhancement – a 30 to 45 percent increase in the existing diesel fuel user fee the navigation industry pays – to fund vital infrastructure investments that return so much to the American economy and to consumers.”
   WCI President/CEO Michael J. Toohey said the WAVE4 legislation would specifically benefit the U.S. agricultural, construction, and energy sectors.
   “The present business model for modernizing the nation’s lock and dam infrastructure is broken, with too few lock and dam projects being built on time and on budget,” he said.
   In a press conference held by the WCI in Washington, DC in March, Toohey said 34 waterway structures are more than 80 years old.
   “It’s amazing we haven’t had a catastrophic event yet,” he said.
   The WCI has blamed a lack of funding and progress for needed projects on the ongoing Olmsted Locks and Dam in Illinois, a project that has used up the lion’s share of federal money spent on replacing or constructing U.S. waterways infrastructure in the past few years. This year, government estimates for the project ballooned to $3.1 billion, more than three times its projected cost when approved in the 1980s.
   “The project is only 40 percent complete, and with Congress appropriating $160 million per year (out of an $180 million budget for waterways improvements), no other projects will get major funding for another 12 years,” Toohey said. “Olmsted is sucking all the oxygen out of the system.”
   The WCI capital plan calls on Congress to reduce or suspend funding at Olmsted and redistribute money to other needed projects. It also calls for increased waterways funding, with the proposed user fee increase signaling that beneficiaries of the lock system are ready to pay to improve its infrastructure.

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