Users Board adopts long-awaited inland waterways report

Users Board adopts long-awaited inland waterways report

The Inland Waterways Users Board concluded a two-hour meeting in Springfield, Va., April 13 with the adoption of a final report that includes recommendations designed to provide the nation with a safe, efficient and effective inland navigation system serving the needs of the barge and towing industry, national security and recreation.

The report was the culmination of a 16-month study by the Inland Marine Transportation System Investment Strategy Team comprising key U.S. Army Corps of Engineers personnel and members of the Users Board.

The recommendations call for preserving the existing 50-50 industry/federal cost-sharing formula for new lock construction and major rehabilitation projects costing $100 million or more; dam construction and smaller rehabilitation projects would be 100 percent federally funded.

Also recommended was a cost-share cap on all new lock construction projects that would preserve the Inland Waterways Trust Fund by preventing the industry from having to fund significant cost overruns.

After reviewing several options for generating revenue for the trust fund, the team also decided to stick with the current “workable, understood, acceptable and auditable†20-cents-a-gallon diesel fuel tax to raise money. In order to finance the recommended program, however, the fuel tax would have to be increased by 30 to 45 percent (6 cents to 9 cents per gallon), the team said. The 30 percent increase is based on an assumption that, under current law, anticipated future revenue would equal the average $85 million annual amount generated over the past five years, while the 45 percent increase is based on fiscal year 2009 actual revenue of $76 million.

Among a number of other recommendations, the team listed several process improvement recommendations it believed could be implemented immediately. They included the appointment of a Users Board representative to each Inland Marine Transportation Systems project, the application of “lessons learned†to managing new projects and the establishment of procedures for recommending new construction starts.

A number of other process improvement recommendations would require additional study or authority. In addition to the cost-sharing cap and a proposal to increase the fuel tax to at least 26 cents per gallon, the recommendations that need study or authority included the development of a portfolio of standardized lock-component designs, and a capital investment program funding level of $380 million a year with target levels of $320 million a year for new construction and $60 million for major rehabilitation.

Leaders of three major inland waterways associations were united in their support of the team’s recommendations.

“We must address the needs of our inland transportation system so that we can continue to move commerce efficiently on the inland waterways system, and we urge Congress to act on this pathway forward now,†said Cornel Martin, president and CEO of Waterways Council Inc.

Joining Martin in support of the team’s recommendations were Amy Larson, president of the National Waterways Conference, and Thomas Allegretti, president and CEO of the American Waterways Operators.

Larson also urged Congress to adopt the proposal, noting that “crucial infrastructure that is essential to our economic security and quality of life is not being properly rehabilitated or recapitalized.â€

Allegretti asserted that the study team recommended “a thoughtfully constructed package of process improvements and funding mechanisms that will enhance the reliability of our nation’s most efficient transportation and strengthen U.S. global competitiveness.â€

The recommendations now go to the administration and to Congress. It will take an act of Congress to approve the recommended increase in the diesel fuel tax; but the Corps and the Obama administration can, if they so desire, go ahead on their own to implement recommendations such as project-delivery improvements.

Chamber of Commerce develops official marine transport policy

The nation’s barge and towing industry learned a few weeks ago that it’s getting a lot of support from a source that at one time might have been considered unlikely: the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Speaking at the National Waterways Conference’s 2010 Legislative Summit, Murphie Barrett, manager of the Chamber’s two-year-old “Let’s Rebuild America†initiative, told attendees of the Chamber’s intense interest in expanding the country’s transportation, energy, broadband and water systems.

While the Chamber may have had a long tradition of supporting transportation for its members, it has acknowledged the lack of “a specific policy statement on marine transportation and as a result had not been a significant player on legislative and regulatory issues,†Barrett said.

“We changed that because we know we have to be clear about what we want. Last year, we formed a subcommittee that was tasked with developing official policy on the marine transportation system. Our main priority is to ensure that the marine transportation system continues to support domestic economic development and U.S. global competitiveness.â€

This year, the Chamber is focusing its efforts on improving project delivery and increasing investment in the system.

“One way to do the latter is to ensure that annual revenue deposited into the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund is made available to the Army Corps (of Engineers) for its intended purpose each budget and appropriations cycle,†Barrett said.

The Chamber executive also urged the industry to make the connection between the waterway system and exports. 

“The marine transportation system plays a critical role in getting our exports to international markets and has a clear role to play in supporting the administration’s initiative,†she said.

NTSB places marine issues among ‘Most Wanted’

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has added marine issues to its 2010 Federal Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements.

The board said it has long been concerned about safety management systems (SMS) on board ships, including subsystems such as preventive maintenance.

The NTSB said that although the U.S. Coast Guard has announced that it intends to require SMS for vessels carrying more than 399 passengers, “the board feels this is unacceptable because it does not cover all U.S.-flagged vessels.†The board believes that the Coast Guard should require an SMS for all domestic vessels so that the same level of safety is applied to the domestic fleet of vessels as is applied to the international fleet.

OSHA maritime panel seeks new members

The Maritime Advisory Committee for Occupational Safety and Health has scheduled meetings for this month and has invited interested parties to apply for membership by May 7.

The full committee plans to meet April 29. Committee work groups — including panels on confined spaces and fall protection in commercial fishing, scaffolding and falls, speed limits in marine terminals, and container rail safety guidance — will meet April 27.

The full committee’s agenda will include an update on activities of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which plans to recharter the committee for another two years. All of the meetings will be at the Newport Marriott Hotel, in Newport, R.I.

In its request for nominees, the 15-member committee said its current charter will expire Sept. 23 and that nominations are to be sent to Dorothy Dougherty, director of the Directorate of Standards and Guidance, Room N-3718, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, U.S. Department of Labor, 200 Constitution Ave., NW, Washington, D.C. 20210.

For more information on both the scheduled meetings and request for nominations, contact Joseph V. Daddura, director, office of maritime, at (202) 693-2067.

Administration criticized by inland waterways supporters

A lawmaker and a state government transportation official are not happy with the way the inland waterways are being treated by the Obama administration.

Rep. John Boozman (R-Ark.) made it clear at a recent hearing by the House Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment that he was not pleased with the administration’s fiscal year 2011 budget proposal for the Army Corps of Engineers.

Boozman, ranking member of the subcommittee, said that while the Corps has contributed to the economic vitality of the nation for nearly two centuries, the FY 2011 budget request for the Corps is less than the FY 2010 request and well below what was enacted in FY 2010.

“Given the fact that the navigation projects and the flood damage reduction projects provide economic benefits to the nation, I would like to see the administration place a higher priority in the Corps’ work,†he said. “All of the Corps projects put people to work, which is another reason to put these investments high on the priority list.â€

Echoing Boozman’s displeasure was Larry L. Brown, executive director of the Mississippi Department of Transportation and president of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO).

Speaking at the spring conference of the American Association of Port Authorities in Washington, D.C., Brown said it was AASHTO’s position that the maritime freight transportation system is “a critical component†of the national freight transportation network.

“Congress must reauthorize WRDA (Water Resources Development Act) as soon as possible and must ensure that the taxes it collects from shippers coming in and out of your ports is fully spent on the dredging, construction and maintenance projects which they are intended to fund,†Brown added. “AASHTO also supports efforts to encourage short sea shipping as a way to reduce freight congestion on our highways, by utilizing the untapped benefits our maritime transportation assets offer.â€

Brown complained that while this year’s budget offered some innovative opportunities for maritime transportation, next year’s budget requests “show some troubling signs.†

He noted that the Department of Transportation has sought no money for continuation of the Maritime Administration’s Marine Highway Program, and that construction funds requested for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers were cut by 10 percent.

Brown acknowledged that bike paths and walkways “have merit too,†but they can’t move freight. Bread and milk is not delivered to a grocery store on a subway, he said. “We have to have a way to move goods.â€

Levees, harbor maintenance funds subjects of bills

Introduced March 11 in the Senate was a bill to require the secretary of the Army to conduct levee system evaluations and certifications on receipt of requests from non-federal interests.

The Rural Community Flood Protection Act (S. 3109), introduced by Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), calls for the non-federal share of the cost of carrying out a levee system evaluation and certification be 35 percent. The bill also provides that the secretary of the Army must adjust the non-federal share to zero if the non-federal interest is located in an area with a population of 10,000 or fewer individuals, or the division of the non-federal interest with responsibility for the applicable levee is staffed by individuals operating on a volunteer basis.

Another bill (H.R. 4844), introduced by Rep. Charles Boustany (R-La.), would ensure that amounts credited to the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund are used for harbor maintenance.

About the Author:

Carlo Salzano has been in journalism since graduating from La Salle University in 1948 as a chemistry major. That’s right, chemistry. He began his career as a copy boy at the Philadelphia Inquirer, before moving on to United Press International in Philadelphia, Charleston, W.Va., Baltimore and Washington. After 14 years, Carlo joined Traffic World magazine and stayed on for 23 years, retiring as editor in 1990. A majority of Carlo’s time at Traffic World was spent covering the maritime community and he continued on in the maritime field while freelancing throughout his “retirement.” He is married and has three children and eight grandchildren.

By Professional Mariner Staff