WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S. — Twenty-two agricultural producer and agribusiness organizations that participate in the Agricultural Transportation Working Group on April 5 sent a letter to House and Senate appropriators asking for continued funding support in fiscal year 2018 to rebuild the nation's declining inland waterways infrastructure.

“While the U.S. transportation infrastructure system long has provided U.S. agricultural producers and agribusinesses with a strong comparative advantage against foreign competitors, our waterways infrastructure system is falling behind,” stated the letter, signed by groups representing producers, grain handlers, millers, processors and exporters, feed manufacturers and agribusinesses. “Most locks and dams on the U.S. inland waterways system have surpassed their design life span of 50 years. Further, navigation channels at U.S. ports need to be deepened to accommodate larger vessels transiting through recently reopened and expanded Panama Canal.”

The groups listed specific action items they’d like to see from appropriators regarding U.S. waterways, including requests to: 

  • Appropriate the full amount supportable by the barge diesel fuel tax going into the Inland Waterways Trust Fund.
  • Support, at a minimum, a funding level of $3.173 billion for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers operations & maintenance (O&M) budget, which helps support ongoing inland and coastal navigation activities.
  • Ensure that spending targets for the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund codified in the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014 are met to cover O&M activities, such as harbor dredging, which would amount to approximately $1.33 billion.

“Our inland waterways and ports are true economic difference-makers that support American workers and help U.S. products reach the 95% of consumers who live outside our borders,” the letter concluded. “We appreciate your consideration of these appropriations requests, and thank you for your time and work on these critical infrastructure needs.”

Last September, the House and Senate passed their versions of the 2016 Water Resources Development Act.  The House passed a $5 billion bill while the Senate passed a $10.6 billion measure. According to the National Grain and Feed Association, neither bill authorizes tolling or lockage fees along the inward waterway system.

Congress in 2014 enacted a sweeping and significant WRDA bill. The two previous bills were separated by seven years, but Congress said it now is committed to completing a bill every two years.