Today the Senate will take up the bipartisan Water Resources Development Act of 2013, S. 601, also known as WRDA. This legislation is critical to the competitiveness of manufacturers throughout the United States and will ensure investment in our 12,000 miles of inland and coastal waterways. Our nation’s navigable rivers help keep transportation costs competitive and are vital for manufacturers’ supply chains to move products and commodities such as coal, petroleum, chemicals, steel, fertilizer and grain among others valued at approximately $78 billion.
Manufacturers strongly support the measures included in S. 601 to streamline environmental reviews that build off the success of coordinated reviews for federal highway and transit projects. It’s a proven process that works, saving time and money. The Federal Highway Administration recently found that environmental streamlining has cut the time to permit a highway project in half, from 73 months down to 37 months. Reducing red tape to deliver Army Corps-sponsored infrastructure projects is important progress.
We are also hopeful that S. 601 will be enhanced in the days ahead to make the nation’s vast inland waterway system more efficient and competitive. The framework provided by the Reinvesting in Vital Economic Rivers and Waterways (RIVER) Act of 2013, S.407 should be included in the final version of S. 601. A comprehensive capital development plan is necessary to achieve the full potential of a robust inland waterway system.
Too often, funds derived from Harbor Maintenance fees are diverted elsewhere instead of going into our ports and harbors for regular upkeep. The WRDA bill will ensure that the fees collected are fully used for intended harbor maintenance projects. More than 90 percent of the nation’s top 50 ports require dredging and by neglecting ports and harbors we are putting our nation’s manufacturers and industries at a competitive disadvantage.
The Senate’s anticipated swift action this week should signal to the House the importance of soon moving on its version of WRDA legislation.
Manufacturers rely on our nation’s inland waterways and ports to support jobs and grow. Our nation will fall even further behind if we do not make the necessary investments in critical transportation infrastructure.
Robyn Boerstling is director of transportation and Infrastructure Policy, National Association of Manufacturers.