The inland waterways industry has come up with a new approach that, they say, will make navigation project completion more efficient and also boost the Inland Waterways Trust Fund.
It appears sound. The 20-year plan, agreed to by a coalition of waterway groups and the Army Corps of Engineers, would prioritize the completion of navigation projects across the entire inland system. The goal would be for the Corps to deliver projects on time and on budget, something that has not been achieved in decades. This is due to the current method of funding projects and the method the Corps uses to execute them.
Currently, the inland waterways system has about $4 billion in authorized projects under construction and another $4 billion authorized but not yet underway. To move these projects along, the proposed funding mechanism would move to multiyear funding instead of going back year after year for more money.
Specifically, the industry’s recommendations would preserve the existing 50-50 federal cost sharing formula for new lock construction and major lock rehab projects of $100 million or more. It would also include a cost-share cap on new lock construction to help keep projects on budget.
To pay for all of this, the waterways industry does not want lockage fees, which were proposed by both the Obama and Bush administrations in the last two fiscal budgets. Instead, to beef up the trust fund, the industry has proposed increasing the existing 20-cent-per-gallon fuel tax by 6 cents to 9 cents per gallon. The current fuel tax has not changed since 1995.
The Inland Waterways Users Board approved the proposal in December and a final report on the recommendations will be considered at the next meeting of the board on April 13.
The proposal appears to be a solid one and deserves our support.