House Republicans this week unveiled an ambitious election-year proposal to shore up America’s aging infrastructure that was heavy on highways, energy, rails, bridges and the like, and light on maritime transportation.
The nearly 800-page American Energy & Infrastructure Jobs Act does include a maritime title that U.S. ports are happy about: directing that funds for the Harbor Maintenance Tax be used for their intended purpose rather than being allocated for other budget items. The bill also includes $67 million for passenger ferries.
But absent is any mention of modernizing of the nation’s old and in many areas crumbling inland waterways infrastructure. There is no discussion or endorsement, for example, of the Capital Development Plan, a joint effort by the waterways industry and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to reform the way inland waterways projects are funded and reviewed.
That’s being left for another political battle, at another time.
“Any other initiative would have to be addressed in other legislation,” said Justin Harclerode, communications director for the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. His boss, Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., introduced the legislation on Tuesday and fast-tracked consideration of it with a hearing and committee markup on Thursday. “We do not plan to include inland waterways infrastructure in this bill,” Harclerode added.
That comes as no surprise to the navigation industry, which is pushing the Capital Development Plan in Congress. Debra Colbert, spokeswoman for the Waterways Council Inc., said that their game plan hasn’t changed. WCI is trying to create a bipartisan consensus that she said would lead to the adoption of the plan as part of the Water Resources Development Act of 2012, which is now being drafted by the House and Senate.
In a presidential election year, it’s a good bet that both the GOP bill and the WRDA legislation will face a challenging political landscape.