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Water infrastructure is a bipartisan effort

Bob Gibbs

File

President Trump’s visit to Cincinnati to highlight the need for investments in our nation’s inland waterways, locks and dams demonstrates the importance of the maritime component to the national infrastructure system. The president recognizes the need to revitalize a portion of our transportation network that all too often does not get the attention it deserves.
Many Americans would be surprised to learn how much our economy relies on major rivers like the Ohio and Mississippi and the Great Lakes system. Over 600 million tons of cargo worth over $230 billion passes through our rivers and lakes every year.
Manufacturers and farmers, just to name a few, rely on the barges that move goods safely and efficiently up and down inland waterways. It’s how the steel mills on the west side of Cleveland get the fuel to power their furnaces and how grain and agriculture products are shipped out of the ports of Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky.
The president is right to want to prioritize investments in this critical piece of the intermodal infrastructure puzzle. For years getting the locks and dams repaired and keeping a proper maintenance schedule was difficult and costly. Federal regulations lengthened the study and approval process to as long as 15 years, leaving locks at risk of failure. At the same time many repair and maintenance projects were seeing huge cost overruns.
As Congress and the president begin to work on legislation that provides for the necessary support of our nation’s infrastructure, Congress has already taken steps to ensure the projects vital to keeping the rivers that power our economy flowing.
In 2014 I worked with my colleagues to pass landmark reforms in the Water Resources Reform and Development Act, also called WRRDA.
WRRDA 2014 makes it easier to get these projects done.
We implemented a new rule called 3x3x3. That means studies for these projects cannot take longer than three years to complete, must cost less than $3 million and all three levels of the Army Corps of Engineers, from the headquarters, to the division, to the district office, must work concurrently in reviewing studies rather than sequentially.
The reforms in WRRDA also include the ability for nonfederal public entities to start the permitting process with the Army Corps by providing funds. This means projects will not necessarily have to wait for federal dollars to start.
Finally, this new process for improving our locks, dams and harbors is transparent and responsible to taxpayers. There are no earmarks whatsoever in WRRDA or its successor, the Water Resources Development Act of 2016. Only projects that undergo the rigorous feasibility study process by the Army Corps are approved in an open and transparent process by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
These were bipartisan reforms that passed the House nearly unanimously. There may be a lot of partisan rancor in Washington these days, but we all agree that making it easier to fix our national water infrastructure is important for everyone. I applaud the president for making this a priority, and I look forward to working with him to ensure our maritime infrastructure in Ohio and the Great Lakes region is among the best in the nation.

Published: June 11, 2017
New Article ID: 2017170619982