Budget boost for inland waterways projects

The Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday added nearly $1.4 billion to the Obama administration’s recommended civil works budget for the Army Corps of Engineers. The appropriation would make full use of Inland Waterways Trust Fund annual revenue, potentially adding money for other priority projects.

The construction account will include $225 million sought by the administration to continue the Olmsted Locks and Dam project on the Ohio River, the Corps’ No. 1 inland priority. A 29 cents per gallon fuel tax paid by commercial operators goes into the fund, which pays for half of new construction and rehabilitation projects.

The Corps’ operations and maintenance budget would be boosted by the Senate measure by $467 million over the administration budget, to $3.17 billion. Those O&M expenses have come under close scrutiny in past year, with the Transportation Research Council and other experts weighing in on the need to reinvest and rebuild locks and dams.

The amended budget would use $1.3 billion from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund, more than a target set in the 2014 water resources act. Funding for the Corps’ pre-project investigations would go up to $126.5 million, $41.5 million beyond the administration request. The Mississippi River and tributaries flood damage risk reduction projects would get $368 million.

The Waterways Council Inc. pushed hard for more inland funding, and council president Michael J. Toohey praised committee members.

“Strong, effective leadership was demonstrated in negotiating and passing this important appropriations bill that offers record funding to modernize our nation’s inland waterways transportation system,” Toohey said in a prepared statement. “Recapitalizing this critical link in the transportation supply chain enables the U.S. to be prepared for expected export growth.”

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Ashley Herriman

Ashley Herriman is WorkBoat's online editor.

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