Last month President Trump released a $1 trillion infrastructure plan that calls for leveraging $200 billion in direct federal spending over the next decade with state and private sector funding. As a follow up, the White House spent this week rolling out details of the plan in what they referred to as “infrastructure week.” On Monday, the President spoke of his desire to move the nation’s air traffic control system to a private nonprofit group. On Wednesday, the President held back-to-back visits in Cincinnati, Ohio and Kentucky to speak about the need for investment in our nation’s inland waterways system and to outline his vision for supporting rural America. On Thursday, the President met with mayors and governors to discuss their infrastructure needs and goals, and he plans to end the week Friday with an address at the Department of Transportation about overhauling our nation’s permitting process and regulations.
During his speech at a marina along the Ohio River, President Trump highlighted the urgent need for increased investments in our nation’s 25,000 miles of inland waterways, which include aging locks, dams, levees, and ports. Referencing his recently released Fiscal Year 2018 Budget Request, the President proposed the creation of an inland waterways toll to supplement the Inland Waterways Trust Fund user tax. Though the President spoke of the need for additional funding, his FY18 Budget Request would cut the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ (USACE) construction account by 50 percent.
Construction and rehabilitation costs of the inland waterways is shared evenly between the federal government and by users that pay the Inland Waterways Trust Fund. Operation and maintenance of the inland waterways, however, is solely paid by the federal government and performed by the USACE. The Inland Waterways Trust Fund is supported by a 29 cents per gallon tax on barge fuel, and in April 2015, this user tax was increased by 9 cents for the first time since 1995. Though recent increases in investment have made some improvements to the inland waterways system, funding must continue at a higher and more consistent level.
ASCE’s 2017 Infrastructure Report Card gave our nation’s inland waterways a grade of “D.” The inland waterways system, which supports more than half a million jobs and delivered more than $229 billion worth of cargo in 2015, is comprised of a system of locks and dams that are well beyond their 50-year design life. Increasing ship traffic, coupled with the frequent shutting down of locks for repair, has resulted in vessel delays that nearly doubled from 64 minutes in 2000 to 121 minutes in 2014. The USACE estimates that the nation’s inland waterways system will require a $4.9 billion investment over the next 20 years.