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Policy Statement 218 - Improvement and Maintenance of Ports, Harbors and Waterways


Approved by the Transportation Policy Committee on March 16, 2017
Approved by the Public Policy Committee on June 4, 2017
Adopted by the Board of Direction on July 29, 2017


The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) supports a program to modernize and maintain ports, harbors, and inland waterways as they are key to the nation's ability to efficiently import and export goods. Such a program should include:

  • Providing a dedicated source of funding for the maintenance and improvement of ports, harbors and inland waterways;
  • Preparing for ports, harbors and inland waterways to accommodate the newest generation of ships;
  • Streamlining the project permitting process for improving ports, harbors and inland waterways;
  • Fully appropriate the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund in to the levels authorized accordance with the Water Resources Reform Development Act of 2014 (WRRDA 2014) and the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act of 2016 (WINN);
  • Passing a Water Resources Development Act on a two-year cycle;
  • Providing the U.S Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) with contract authority for projects, to avoid the stop-and-start of construction currently happening because of the appropriations process;
  • Utilizing alternative financing and delivery methods, such as public-private partnerships, when appropriate; and
  • Developing and implementing a standardized measurement for delays on the Inland Waterways system.


The need for a dedicated funding source to maintain and improve the nation's ports, harbors, and inland waterways is vital to the nation's economic growth. Deficient port gateways negatively impact the nation's ability to export essential commodities and high value manufactured goods at competitive costs, and could raise the cost of imports and the advantages that these imports bring for production by U.S. business.

The Harbor Maintenance Tax (HMT) is collected to fund 100% of the federal navigation channel operation and maintenance costs. However, the HMT funds have not been fully appropriated annually accumulating a balance of more than an $8.6B. Obtaining funding for each harbor maintenance and improvement project requires the long process of Congressional authorization, appropriation, and allocation. WRRDA 2014 and WIIN provided a schedule to allocate all HMTF revenues by 2025.

An effective regulatory program is also needed to safeguard the sensitive and natural attributes of estuarine and coastal environments within which port, harbor and waterway maintenance and improvement dredging projects take place. Conducting and managing the regulatory process in an objective and timely manner at all levels of industry and government will serve the overall environmental benefits and public interests of the projects.

Specific issues within the current regulatory program that deserve attention are: the lack of concurrent reviews and firm deadlines for action by the various agencies; delay by agencies in setting up uniform criteria; delay in setting up permanent disposal sites for dredged material; and the complexity of procedures for routine maintenance. Beneficial use of dredged materials is encouraged in accordance with ASCE policy 513.

The United States' 25,000 miles of inland waterways and 239 locks form the freight network's "water highway." This intricate system, operated and maintained by the USACE, supports more than half a million jobs and delivers more than 600 million tons of cargo each year, about 14% of all domestic freight. Most locks and dams on the system are well beyond their 50-year design life, and nearly half of vessels experience delays. Investment in the waterways system has increased in recent years, but upgrades on the system still take decades to complete.


Ports serve as the gateway through which 99% of America's overseas trade passes through and were responsible for $4.6 trillion in economic activity in 2014-roughly 26% of the nation's economy-making them essential to U.S. competitiveness. Nearly $1.75 trillion worth of cargo moved through seaports in 2013. The movement of goods through ports supports 23.1 million jobs, and provides $321.1 billion in tax revenue to federal, state, and local governments. The global freight transportation market is highly competitive which has necessitated ever increasing levels of efficiency in cargo. movement. This has resulted in the consolidation of shipping lines into three mega alliances and the building of mega container ships, and thus the need for maritime improvements such as deepening channels, increasing the size of turning basins, and lengthening berths. Over the next decade, ports and inland waterways are expected to need $37 billion in investment, but are expected to be short $15 billion. Absent adequate investment, the economic impact seen in cumulative GDP losses would be almost $784 billion by 2025 and potentially lead to the loss of 440,000 jobs. It is in the best interest of the United States to have well-maintained and modern port, harbor, and waterway facilities. This can be achieved through full appropriation of HMT funds for maritime projects and an improved regulatory process.

ASCE Policy Statement 218
First Approved in 1977