Ask an Expert: What’s next after WRRDA?

The recent passage of the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA) of 2013 (H.R. 3080) marked a significant victory for manufacturers. The long-overdue reauthorization invested in our nation’s 12,000 miles of inland and coastal waterways, which are responsible for transporting products and commodities valued at $185 billion per year. With WRRDA completed, our attention is focused on what is poised to be a significant year ahead for transportation policy.

Federal funding for highway and transit programs is set to expire Sept. 30, 2014. Congress passed the current authorization—the two-year, $105 billion Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21)—after three years and ten short-term extensions of the previous funding bill. The NAM is working to ensure a robust, multi-year surface transportation reauthorization that builds on the bipartisan success of WRRDA. Manufacturers cannot afford the uncertainty that results from patchwork legislation.

Any transportation funding bill must, of course, address imminent Highway Trust Fund shortfalls. This could prove to be the biggest challenge in the reauthorization. Current predictions place the Highway Trust Fund on a path to insolvency sometime in 2015. The vast amount of investment needed for functional highway and transit programs is not something that states can shoulder on their own. If funding ceases, the entire manufacturing supply chain would be at risk. The Highway Trust Fund operates on user fees, and the NAM urges members of Congress to maintain that model as they negotiate a long-term fix.

Manufacturers are in agreement that their competitiveness hinges on sound infrastructure. A majority of manufacturers participating in a joint NAM/Building America’s Future survey said that U.S. infrastructure is in fair or poor shape, while roads in particular are getting even worse. U.S. infrastructure is not positioned to respond to the competitive demands of a growing economy. The NAM is hoping to change that through the next transportation bill. An investment in infrastructure is an investment in manufacturing.

Robyn Boerstling is the director of transportation and infrastructure policy at the National Association of Manufacturers.

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