Peter Stephaich, chairman of Campbell Transportation Companyin Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Executive Committee member of Waterways Council, Inc. (WCI), testified in mid-April before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee on “Foundations for a New Water Resources Development Act (WRDA).”
Stephaich addressed the importance of water resources development legislation, the current broken model for modernizing the nation’s locks and dams, and the need for adoption of the Capital Development Plan (CDP), which is H.R. 1149, Waterways are Vital to our Economy, Energy, Efficiency and the Environment (WAVE 4) to remedy problems with the current water resources development approach. H.R. 1149 provides a $7.6 billion, 20-year program ($380 million/year) capital investment program to which the industry would contribute $110 million per year and the Federal government would contribute $270 million annually.
Urging the inclusion of WAVE 4 in a WRDA bill, Stephaich outlined the bill’s key elements:
- Offers a prioritized list of projects based upon risk of failure and benefits to the nation with an emphasis on finishing projects already underway and ensuring that funding is available to efficiently fund work.
- Ensures that future Corps’ estimates for project costs must have a confidence level of at least 80 percent.
- Continues the cost-share for lock construction at remain 50-50, industry-federal, but makes major rehabilitation costs 100 percent federal unless greater than $100 million, in which case they would be cost shared 50-50, industry-federal. The current threshold of about $14 million is too low and results in routine operations and maintenance (O&M) items being cost shared with the industry thereby straining the Trust Fund and functioning in a way that is contrary to Congressional intent that O&M should be a 100 percent federal obligation.
- Changes the cost-share for dam construction to be 100% federal instead of the current 50-50 cost share because of the many national beneficiaries of dams (water supply, electric utilities, recreation, etc.).
- Caps industry’s exposure for project costs at 50 percent of the inflation-adjusted level set in a project’s authorization document in order to protect consumers from unreasonable cost increases and project delay and incentivizes the government to complete projects within budget.
- Increases the industry’s diesel fuel user fee by 30-45 percent, from the current 20-cents-per gallon to 26- to 29-cents-per-gallon.
- Improves the Corps’ project management and processes to better deliver completed modernization projects on time and within budget.
The Senate companion bill to the WAVE 4 bill (H.R. 1149) is the RIVER Act (S. 407).
Modernizing the nation’s waterways transportation system can create American jobs, increase exports, and inject billions of dollars into the U.S. economy. On average, investment in the inland waterways system infrastructure returns more than 10 times to the nation’s economy what is spent.
“As a nation, we seem to have lost the ability we once had to plan and construct individual inland waterway capital projects in a timely and cost-effective fashion,” Stephaich said. “In our ever-more-competitive global economy, where our nation’s economic competitors are investing vast sums to improve their transportation networks and waterway infrastructure, why would we in the United States knowingly allow our inland waterway system to continue to deteriorate?”
“What is it that makes it so difficult for Americans today to see what was so clear and compelling to our parents and generations of parents before them, that for this great nation to have a future we must invest today and every day in its wealth-producing capacity, one pillar of which is and always has been our inland waterway system?”