Posted on February 25, 2021
The leadership of the transportation committee at the U.S. House of Representatives is calling on the White House to prioritize a fund used to back maintenance projects at the country’s ports.
Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) and ranking member Sam Graves (R-Mo.) proposed in a joint statement that President Joe Biden call on his administration to fully utilize the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund.
Such a directive, included in Biden’s upcoming budget request to Congress, would likely lead to the availability of about $10 billion for the Army Corps of Engineers, DeFazio and Graves suggested. Tapping the fund would assist with maintenance projects at ports and harbors along key freight corridors, they noted.
In a letter issued Feb. 11, the two House policymakers wrote to Biden: “By taking advantage of these increased spending limits in your [fiscal] 2022 budget request and releasing these funds, you can maximize the capability of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to meet existing federal harbor maintenance obligations and have an immediate positive benefit on our nation’s economy and critical infrastructure.”
“In recognition of our common desire to increase investment in our nation’s economy and infrastructure, and to create and sustain U.S. jobs, we urge you to recognize the advantage of this new budget tool and to include in your [fiscal year] 2022 budget request the full capability of the corps to meet the backlog of critical maintenance dredging needs of all our U.S. ports and harbors,” DeFazio and Graves added.
“Making these funds immediately available is an easy step to make commodities and goods produced in the U.S. more competitive in world markets, maintain the safety and reliability of our ports, and will restore the faith of those who pay into the [Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund].”
White House officials have signaled the possibility of a delay in their release of the president’s first budget request to Congress. The White House points to communication concerns during the transition process, as well as lingering concerns with the nomination of Neera Tanden to lead the Office of Management and Budget. Additionally, besides acknowledging a need for greater investments in infrastructure projects, the White House has yet to announce proposals specific to the trust fund.
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As part of the Water Resources Development Act of 2020, or WRDA 2020, about $10 billion in unspent harbor maintenance funding was authorized. The fund’s distribution schedule enacted into law sets limits for receiving the money. Over the years, DeFazio has championed accessing the fund, noting its steady growth.
Proponents of the fund suggest that its use would expedite repairs for navigation channels and facilities. As the American Association of Port Authorities noted, “Properly maintaining these channels would expedite transportation cost savings.”
The condition of ports remains a concern for myriad stakeholders. An analysis by the American Society of Civil Engineers determined that ports produce about $4.6 trillion in economic activity. With the increasing size of ships, congestion has become a growing problem along landside connections within the freight network.
ASCE observed, “Despite the national significance of ports, most port-related investments are limited to state or local appropriations. If there are multiple ports within a state, they often compete for the same funding resources if any funding programs exist at all.”