Posted on: June 20th, 2013 by Stas



Waterways Council Inc. (WCI) reports that on May 15 the U.S. Senate passed by a vote of 83-14 the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) to, among other water resources areas, modernize the nation’s inland waterways.  The House of Representatives will now take up its version of the bill.

In a press release WCI noted, “The Senate WRDA bill contains a number of critically important provisions related to the modernization of inland waterways’ lock and dam infrastructure. Fifty-seven percent (57%) of the locks and dams on the nation’s inland waterways system have exceeded their economic design life expectancy…

Of specific interest to inland waterways stakeholders, the final Senate WRDA bill included elements of the RIVER Act (S. 407) to remove the over-budget and long-delayed Olmsted lock and dam project from the Inland Waterways Trust Fund (IWTF), the remainder of the cost to be paid 100% by General Treasury revenue and not cost-shared 50-50 through the IWTF.  This action will free up around $750 million to the IWTF to complete critical priority navigation projects.

An increase in the threshold for major rehabilitation, from the current $14 million to $20 million, was also approved.

Passage of increased funding for inland port dredging to be released from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund was also welcomed by the industry in the final Senate WRDA bill.

Not included in the Senate WRDA bill is the industry-supported provision to increase the diesel fuel user fee that funds half (around $85 million annually currently) of the IWTF that is matched by General Treasury dollars to pay for new construction and major rehabilitation on the inland waterways system.  A combination of declining Congressional appropriations for inland waterways projects has caused the Trust Fund to fluctuate from $186 million in 1992 to $412 million in 2002 to a low of $31.9 million in 2013, according to WCI.  More investment is needed for the fund.

The Constitution requires that revenue enhancement measures originate in the House of Representatives. Therefore a provision to increase the user fee must originate in the House version of WRDA or be added to some other revenue measure.  WCI remains hopeful that the user fee provision will be included in the House version of WRDA.

WCI spokesperson Debra Colbert noted, “The industry pays for half of the cost (and of cost over-runs) of all priority projects, including Olmsted, through a 20-cent-per gallon user fee that goes into the Inland Waterways Trust Fund to pay for new construction and major rehabilitation.  Only around 300 towing operators pay this user fee – no other segment of waterways users (recreational boaters, commercial fisherman, passenger vessels, those who benefit from hydropower, municipal water supply, waterfront property development enhancements, etc.) pay a user fee for the care and modernization of the system.  Unlike some fees or taxes that are paid by many but benefit a very small number, this is the opposite: This is a fee paid by few that benefits the nation.”

The removal of the Olmsted Lock and Dam Project, near Paducah, Kentucky, from the Senate WRDA bill was a win for waterways interests.  Estimated to cost $775 million in 1988, Olmsted is now projected to cost $3.2 billion with completion not until 2024.

Colbert explained “The Olmsted project is the best example of the present broken business model for constructing navigation projects on time and on budget.  If Olmsted remains on the Trust Fund, no other project will be meaningfully advanced.”

Delays by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) in constructing Olmsted are an industry concern, Colbert explained. “The Corps has built the full majority of its locks and dams in a traditional coffer dam method, where the lock and dam site is cordoned off and dewatered, built ‘in the dry’ during two daily shifts, six days a week.  The Corps has built Olmsted in a fairly new and untested construction methodology – ‘in the wet.’ (Braddock Dam was the only other built in the wet.)  Shells are built on land, then carried by huge Gantry cranes and sunk in the bottom of the moving river.  This has not worked efficiently:  this is a fast-current area of the river; it is subject to icing conditions; and the work period is only for four months of the year, from July-November. As a result, the Corps has never met its goal of placing six shells per construction season (they have only completed 13 of 66 shells thus far).  Eight shells were completed in 2010 and 2011; five in 2012.”

The cumulative effect of the funding and Olmsted’s construction methodology challenges, coupled with the lack of proper investment in Operations & Maintenance, has meant that unscheduled, emergency closures of locks occur as frequently as scheduled closures.  This has resulted in delays and disruptions of waterways transportation of agricultural products, steel, petroleum, coal and other bulk materials.  One such surprising closure occurred last March near New Orleans when the Algiers Lock failed, causing operators to divert shipments through other locks at a cost of $8 million per month according to WCI.

With the right fix to the funding challenges, WCI hopes that 24-25 priority waterways projects can be completed in the next 20 years as opposed to only two projects if the Olmsted Project remains on the Trust Fund and eats up most of the investment dollars.


Colbert noted that priority navigation projects under construction are:

Olmsted Lock and Dam (Ohio River)

Lower Monongahela Rivers Locks and Dams 2, 3 and 4 (Monongahela River, PA)

Kentucky Lock addition (Tennessee River)

ChickamaugaLock (Tennessee River)

Emsworth Dam rehabilitation ((Ohio River)

Markland Lock and Dam rehabilitation (Ohio River)


Authorized but not funded projects are:

John T. Myers Lock Extension (Ohio River)

Greenup Lock Extension (Ohio River)

Locks 20, 21, 22, 24 and 25 (Upper Mississippi River)

LaGrange andPeoriaLocks (Illinois Waterway)

Bayou Sorrel Lock replacement (Gulf Intracoastal Waterway)

High Island to Brazos River (Gulf Intracoastal Waterway)

Inner Harbor Navigation Canal Lock Project (Gulf Intracoastal Waterway)


The House’s Transportation & Infrastructure (T&I) Committee, chaired by Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA),  is likely to take up its version of WRDA between now and early Fall.  T&I Committee members include:  (Democrats on the left column and Republicans on the right column):


Nick J. Rahall, II,West Virginia, Ranking Member      Don Young, Alaska
Peter A. DeFazio,Oregon      Thomas E. Petri, Wisconsin
Eleanor Holmes Norton,Washington,D.C.      Howard Coble, North Carolina
Jerrold Nadler,New York      John J. Duncan, Jr., Tennessee
Corrine Brown,Florida      John Mica, Florida
Eddie Bernice Johnson,Texas      Frank A. LoBiondo, New Jersey
Elijah E. Cummings,Maryland      Gary C. Miller, California
Rick Larsen,Washington      Sam Graves, Missouri
Michael E. Capuano,Massachusetts      Shelley Moore Capito, West Virginia
Timothy H. Bishop,New York      Candice S. Miller, Michigan
Michael H. Michaud,Maine      Duncan Hunter, California
Grace Napolitano,California      Andy Harris, Maryland
Daniel Lipinski,Illinois      Eric A. “Rick” Crawford, Arizona
Timothy J. Walz,Minnesota      Lou Barletta, Pennsylvania
Steve Cohen,Tennessee      Blake Farenthold, Texas
Albio Sires,New Jersey      Larry Bucshon, Indiana
Donna F. Edwards,Maryland      Bob Gibbs, Ohio
John Garamendi,California      Patrick Meehan, Pennsylvania
André Carson,Indiana      Richard L. Hanna, New York
Janice Hahn,California      Daniel Webster, Florida
Richard M. Nolan,Minnesota      Steve Southerland, II, Florida
Ann Kirkpatrick,Arizona      Jeff Denham, California
Dina Titus,Nevada      Reid J. Ribble, Wisconsin
Sean Patrick Maloney,New York      Thomas Massie, Kentucky
Elizabeth H. Esty,Connecticut      Steven Daines, Montana
Lois Frankel,Florida      Tom Rice, South Carolina
Cheri Bustos,Illinois      Markwayne Mullin, Oklahoma
     Roger Williams, Texas
     Trey Radel, Florida
     Mark Meadows, North Carolina
     Scott Perry, Pennsylvania
     Rodney L. Davis, Illinois


“We remain hopeful for the right outcome ahead that will right our course for the next two decades,” said Colbert.  “Congress has some very smart and capable people who will do the right thing for the nation and its infrastructure.”

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