Obama proposes $4.8 billion for Corps’ civil works program
On April 10, the administration proposed a $4.8 billion budget for the fiscal year 2014 civil works program of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. During an afternoon briefing, Jo-Ellen Darcy, assistant secretary of the Army for civil works, described the proposal as “frugal,” but one that will “support continued progress on very important investments that will yield long-term returns for the nation and its citizens.”
The proposed budget, which is $95 million more than the president’s budget authority request for the current fiscal year, provides $1.35 billion for construction; $2.7 billion for operation and maintenance (O&M); $90 million to study several proposals, including requests to deepen eight U.S. coastal ports with a high level of commercial use; $200 million to improve the efficiency of the Corps’ permit processing, and $279 million for ongoing construction, O&M and studies, with emphasis on the 1,600 miles of levees on the main stem of the lower Mississippi River and in the Atchafalaya Basin.
The total budget proposal for civil works includes $1.9 billion for the Corps’ navigation program, which Darcy said shows the importance the administration places on navigation.
Noting that in September 2011 the president proposed a new user fee to complement the existing fuel tax deposited in the Inland Waterways Trust Fund, Darcy said the administration will continue to work with Congress and stakeholders to enact “a mechanism to increase revenue in this trust fund.”
Darcy acknowledged that FY 2014 budget proposals for low commercial use navigation projects are smaller than in prior years, but that was done to “focus available funding on projects providing the greatest return to the nation.”
Joining Darcy at the briefing was Lt. Gen. Thomas P. Bostick, the Corps’ commanding general, who reiterated the Corps’ “transformation strategy,” including changing the budget development process from a project-centric basis to one that involves a systems-based, watershed approach to decision making, focusing on national goals and objectives.
Bostick stressed that the strategy includes “developing reliable methods of assessing current infrastructure value and performance in meeting authorized project purposes.”
On Capitol Hill, Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, voiced his distaste for the president’s “call to increase spending without identifying a viable means to pay for it. We just can’t just keep adding to our tab and expect future generations to foot the bill. We have the responsibility to address America’s infrastructure needs with an equally responsible solution that doesn’t burden our children with more debt.”
Bill would modernize inland waterways
Legislation that seeks to modernize America’s water transportation network and ensure the viability of the infrastructure needed to carry cargo has been introduced by Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.).
Enjoying the “strong support” of the American Waterways Operators, the measure, the so-called Rivers Act of 2013 (S. 407), is based on the Inland Waterways Capital Development Plan jointly developed by public and private sector experts from the barge industry, shippers and the Army Corps of Engineers.
“It is no secret that our water transportation infrastructure is in dire need of modernization to keep pace with existing demand and sustain America’s economic competitiveness for the future,” said Tom Allegretti, AWO’s president and CEO. “During the low-water crisis on the Mississippi River last fall, many Americans saw for the first time how critical our inland waterways are to American jobs, exports, and economic health. Sen. Casey’s bill is a critical step toward ensuring the future reliability of the inland waterways infrastructure that is a vital part of our national transportation system.”
The River Act would prioritize the completion of navigation infrastructure, improve project delivery, preserve the existing 50/50 industry-federal cost-sharing formula for new lock construction and major lock rehabilitation projects, realize a sustainable appropriation of $380 million, include a cost-share cap on lock construction projects, and institute a 45 percent increase (9 cents a gallon) in the existing fuel tax of 20 cents per gallon.
Cordero succeeds Lidinsky as FMC chairman
President Obama designated Mario Cordero as chairman of the Federal Maritime Commission April 1, the day after Richard A. Lidinsky Jr. submitted his resignation as chairman.
Lidinsky, one of three Democrats on the commission, gave no reason for stepping down. Lidinsky will remain on the FMC until the president decides whether to renominate or replace him.
He is currently serving a term that expired last June. Lidinsky was renominated by Obama, but the Senate took no action before the 112th Congress adjourned.
Cordero, a Democrat, has been a member of the commission since June 3, 2011. The third Democrat on the commission is William P. Doyle. The two Republicans on the five-member commission are Rebecca F. Dye and Michael A. Khouri.
In commenting on Obama’s choice, Doyle noted that Cordero is the commission’s “first Latino commissioner and the first Latino chairman.”
Coast Guard seeks comments on use of electronic TWIC readers
The U.S. Coast Guard has announced four public meetings to receive comments on a notice of proposed rulemaking regarding the use of electronic readers to work with the Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC).
The meetings will take place April 18 at the Crystal City Marriott at Reagan National Airport in Arlington, Va.; April 25 at the Houston (Texas) Marriott North; May 2 at the Seattle Airport Marriott Hotel, and May 9 in Chicago at a yet-to-be-determined location.
The rule proposed by the Coast Guard would require owners and operators of certain vessels and facilities regulated by the Coast Guard to use electronic readers designed to work with TWIC as an access control measure. Mariners seeking unescorted access to secure areas now present their TWICs for inspection by security personnel, but the Coast Guard believes that security would be further enhanced by the use of electronic readers at those locations.
The vessels whose owners and operators would be required to use electronic readers are ships that carry certain dangerous cargoes; ships that carry more than 1,000 passengers; and towing vessels engaged in towing a barge or barges carrying certain dangerous chemicals or 1,000 passengers.
For more information on the four meetings, contact Lt. Cdr. Gregory Callaghan at (202) 372-1168.
Corps needs more money to do its job
Lt. Gen. Thomas P. Bostick, commanding general and chief of engineers of the Army Corps of Engineers, didn’t hesitate to tell a top White House official what kind of help the Corps needed from the administration. Speaking at the 2013 Washington (D.C.) Seminar of Waterways Council Inc. March 19, Bostick said that at a recent meeting former White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew asked how he could help the Corps. “I reinforced what all of us in this room know — the administration needs to not only talk about the value of our rivers and ports, but reinforce that message in the budgeting process. Money travels on our waterways.”
Noting the Corps’ “fiscal reality,” Bostick said that while the service has a $60 billion backlog of projects, it receives only about $1.5 billion each year that it has to spread it out “like peanut butter.”
“We’re not crying wolf. We got some real problems and this is where our greatest needs are,” he said.
A highlight of the seminar was the unveiling by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) of its 2013 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure. Among the usual categories studied every four years were inland waterways, dams and levees. A new one this year was “ports,” which debuted with a grade of C. The society’s report card on ports focused largely on the landside and water connections, rather than the facilities themselves. A grade of C means the infrastructure in the system is mediocre and requires attention.
An ASCE advisory council said that to sustain and serve a growing economy and to compete internationally, the nation’s ports need to be maintained, modernized and expanded. While port authorities and their private sector partners have planned over $46 billion in capital improvements from now until 2016, the council said, “federal funding has declined for navigable waterways and landside freight connections needed to move goods to and from the ports.”
Inland waterways, continuing to show poor conditions and stagnant investment levels, scored a D-minus on the report card. A grade of D means the infrastructure is in poor to fair condition and mostly below standard.
In an Executive Summary, the ASCE Advisory Council said that in many cases the inland waterways system has not been updated since the 1950s and more than half of the locks are over 50 years old.
“Barges are stopped for hours each day with unscheduled delays, preventing goods from getting to market and driving up costs,” the council said. “There is an average of 52 service interruptions a day throughout the system. Projects to repair and replace aging locks and dredge channels take decades to approve and complete, exacerbating the problem further.”
Here are some solutions the report offered inland waterways:
• Establish a national freight strategy and policy that incorporates all modes of transportation,
• Increase overall spending on inland waterways and secure additional financing for projects,
• Prioritize capital projects according to risk and reliability, as well as economic return.
The ASCE report estimated the annual needs of the nation’s infrastructure system at $454 billion, $201 billion more than the estimated actual funding. That total includes $30 billion for inland waterways and ports, $16 billion more than the $14 billion actually provided; $21 billion for dams, $15 billion more than provided; and $80 billion for levees, $72 billion more than the $8 billion of estimated funding.
Casey Dinges, ASCE senior managing director, public affairs, membership and marketing, who presented the 2013 Report Card at the WCI Seminar, said that ASCE has developed three key solutions to begin raising the grades:
• Increase leadership in infrastructure renewal;
• Promote sustainability and resilience;
• Agree on how to prioritize and fund strategic new investments in infrastructure that position the U.S. for the future.
“We need to make sure we are implementing the right projects at the right price,” Dinges added.