The Board of Directors of the National Waterways Conference voted to support the draft Inland Marine Transportation System Capital Investment Strategy endorsed by the Inland Waterways Users Board at its meeting in New Orleans on December 15, 2009. The unanimous vote signals the Board’s recognition of the urgent need for adequate funding for our nation’s water resources infrastructure.
Developed over the course of the past year under the auspices of the Inland Waterways Users Board, the Strategy is the culmination of a collaborative effort by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and industry representatives to develop a comprehensive funding and investment plan for construction and major rehabilitation projects along the 12,000 mile system of inland waterways. Currently, such projects are funded at a 50-50 cost share by the Federal government and industry users through the Inland Waterways Trust Fund. The industry portion is derived from a 20 cent per gallon diesel fuel tax paid by the commercial users of the inland waterways. The draft Strategy would retain the existing cost share, with several significant changes: the fuel tax would increase by 30% to 45%; rehabilitation projects costing less than $100 million would be federally funded, while major rehabilitation projects above that level and construction projects would continue to be cost-shared by the Trust Fund; dam improvements also would be federally funded, as those projects have multiple beneficiaries; and criteria for prioritizing projects would be established based on economic return and risk and reliability factors.
In taking its action, the Conference’s Board of Directors noted the vital importance of America’s waterways to our nation’s well-being. Waterborne transportation is the safest, most energy-efficient and environmentally sound mode of transportation, and the Board encourages the Congress and the Administration to fully fund these important capital assets. Given the importance of all water resources infrastructure, the Board further urges that the additional increases needed to support the Capital Investment Strategy be appropriated from the general treasury and not negatively impact other water resources projects.
NWC Chairman Fred Caver noted after the meeting that the status quo cannot be sustained. “The Inland Waterways Trust Fund is essentially broke and crucial infrastructure that is essential to our economic security and quality of life is not being properly rehabilitated or recapitalized,” Caver said. He urged the Congress to adopt the proposal as a package and to include it in a Water Resources Development Act this year.