We must improve ports, waterways and water infrastructure

The global marketplace is becoming increasingly competitive, making it more difficult for the United States to stay on top. According to the World Economic Forum, in just a few years, we have fallen from having the most competitive economy in the world to having the fifth.

America must protect any economic advantages it has. During the last 150 years, transformative infrastructure accomplishments, such as the Transcontinental Railroad, the Panama Canal and the Interstate Highway System, have given us a tremendous economic edge. 

But these advantages are slipping away. It has become more challenging to care for and modernize our infrastructure, while other countries are improving their transportation systems and closing the gap.

ADVERTISEMENT
For example, our cost-effective inland waterways system makes it cheaper to get soybeans from U.S. farmers in Iowa to China, compared to the costs for our Brazilian competitors. However, the aging locks and dams on our rivers are becoming less reliable and driving up domestic transportation costs, while Brazil’s port improvements and development of a comparable waterways system will drive down its costs.

If we don’t properly care for our own infrastructure, the continued deterioration of this vital asset will have repercussions throughout our economy, and we will have no one but ourselves to blame for furthering our own competitive decline.

In the past, Congress approved legislation every 2 years to provide direction to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for maintaining our waterborne transportation infrastructure. However, Congress has not passed such a bill since 2007 or acted to reform the slow, costly, duplicative process that allows the Corps to study projects for 15 years or more with no cost limit.

This week, the House will consider legislation we introduced to address these problems, strengthen our infrastructure, keep America competitive and promote economic growth. The bipartisan Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA) provides overdue reforms of the Corps process, is fiscally responsible, contains no earmarks and maintains Congress’s constitutional authority to provide strong oversight and ensure the efficient flow of commerce.

Our fiscally responsible WRRDA eliminates $12 billion in previously authorized but inactive projects, reducing the significant project backlog and fully offsetting new water infrastructure projects.Additional reforms bring greater accountability and transparency to how projects are selected and reviewed. State, local or nonfederal parties will now identify potential infrastructure needs. The Corps will review proposals and submit those eligible for authorization to Congress in an annual public report. 

Under a newly consolidated and streamlined process, almost all Corps studies will now have deadlines of no more than three years and will be limited to $3 million. If the Corps Chief of Engineers recommends construction, the proposal will be sent to Congress for consideration.  

This new transparent process eliminates earmarking and increases accountability for Congress to exercise its constitutional responsibilities. Only proposals that are fully vetted, reviewed, made public and submitted to Congress by the Corps can receive congressional authorization.

Further common-sense reforms reduce bureaucratic hurdles and provide flexibility for nonfederal parties, including the private sector, to finance authorized projects. For example, the Port of Miami is prepared to move forward with a much-needed infrastructure improvement, without federal funding, but is unable to do so simply because of statutory roadblocks. Our bill fixes this problem and ensures it won’t happen again.

As anyone in business or on a budget knows, time is money. By accelerating the process for studying and developing infrastructure improvements, instituting deadlines and cost controls and providing the necessary flexibility for projects to proceed when the federal government is in the way, the WRRDA saves us both. 

Most importantly, this legislation reinvigorates one of our nation’s greatest transportation assets, and allows America’s farmers, manufacturers and businesses to compete on a global scale.

Shuster has represented Pennsylvania’s 9th Congressional District since 2001. He is chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and also serves on Armed Services Committee. Rahall has represented West Virginia’s 3rd Congressional District since 1977. He is ranking member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.