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

 
Approved by the Transportation Policy Committee on May 16, 2019 
Approved by the Public Policy Committee on August 9, 2019
Adopted by the Board of Direction on October 14, 2019

Policy

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 fully dedicated funding source for the maintenance and improvement of ports, harbors and inland waterways;
  • Fully utilizing the Harbor Maintenance Tax (HMT) and ensure tax revenue is appropriately distributed via the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF); 
  • Fully appropriating the HMTF in accordance with its authorized levels and distributed to all port classifications;
  • 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;
  • Passing a Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) 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 at locks on the Inland Waterways System.

Issue

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 WRDA of 1986 enacted the HMT and was intended to fund 100% of the Operations and Maintenance of deep draft federal navigation channels administered by USACE, with collected funds getting placed in the General Treasury and then credited to the HMTF. Despite this long-standing process, decades of partially appropriating HMT collections have left navigation channels across the country with depth and width restrictions, leading to inefficient movement of the growing freight volume. Full HMT revenue should be distributed appropriately to ensure effective channel maintenance and specific port needs are met.

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. 

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 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 will take decades to address deferred maintenance and improvements. 

Rationale

The United States' 926 ports are essential to the nation's competitiveness, serving as the gateway through which 99% of overseas trade passes. Ports are responsible for $4.6 trillion in economic activity - roughly 26% of the U.S. economy. Similarly, on the water side, larger ships require deeper navigation channels, which only a few U.S. ports currently have. To remain competitive globally and with one another, ports have been investing in expansion, modernization, and repair. 

Over the next decade, ports and inland waterways are expected to need $37 billion in investment but will only have a projected $22 billion in funding available. The projected investment gap will potentially lead to 440,000 fewer jobs in 2025 and almost 1.2 million fewer jobs in 2040 than would otherwise be expected with modernized waterborne transportation systems in place. By 2025, the nation will have lost almost $800 billion in GDP, while the cumulative impact through 2040 is expected to be almost $2.8 trillion in GDP. 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


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