CHATTANOOGA, TENN. — U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) announced that he and a bipartisan group of senators will introduce legislation, called the American Waterworks Act, to modernize America’s ports, locks, and dams. Alexander, along with Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), has been working with a bipartisan group of senators to address major shortfalls in U.S. port and waterway infrastructure, in preparation for the 2014 completion of the expansion of the Panama Canal, which will provide the U.S. with more trade opportunities.
Alexander said that the legislation would do two things: free up funds in the Inland Waterways Trust Fund by ending the requirement that trust fund revenues go to pay for Olmsted Lock on the Ohio River, a project that has been soaking up almost 90 percent of fund revenues; and it would nearly double the amount of money in the trust fund by increasing the user fees.
The bill would do the following:
• Remove the requirement that Olmsted Lock be funded using Inland Waterways Trust Fund revenues (currently Olmsted Lock on the Ohio River requires $147 million of the $170 million in annual funding available for inland lock construction and rehabilitation and taking it out of the Inland Waterways Trust Fund will free up revenue to address needed lock and dam repairs across the country)
• Provide full federal funding for maintenance of harbors up to 50 feet deep (currently it is only full funding up to 45 feet, but the Panama Canal expansion will accommodate ships with a 50 foot depth)
• Establish an accounting method for revenues from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund that will allow them to offset annual Harbor Maintenance spending
• Speed up construction permit approval and provide states with the ability to appeal slow moving regulatory decision making
• Authorize a five-year construction program to expand harbors to accommodate the larger ships expected after the Panama Canal expansion
• Increase revenue to the Inland Waterways Trust Fund in a manner consistent with the agreement between the Inland Waterways Users and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
• Require Inland Waterways construction projects follow the plan agreed to by the Inland Waterways Users and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
• Fund Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund and Inland Waterways Trust Fund construction projects to authorized widths and depths as part of the five-year construction program.
• Fund landside infrastructure at ports