Alexander wants more money for locks, dams despite Trump plan to cut such spending

Chattanooga Times/Free Press

April 11– Apr. 11–Despite President Trump’s budget proposal to cut federal funding for waterway projects by 31 percent next year, U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tennessee, wants more money for building locks and dams in the federal budget in 2020.

Alexander, the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, urged members of Congress Wednesday to include more money for projects like the replacement lock for the Chickamauga Dam in Chattanooga in the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.

“Funding for construction of the new Chickamauga Lock has been provided for the past five years, so it doesn’t make sense for the administration to not include the project in the budget request,” Alexander said. “In my opinion, we should spend more, not less, on our nation’s water infrastructure.”

The Trump administration is again proposing to cut the civil works budget for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which builds and maintains most locks and dams and other water projects in the United States. The Trump budget proposes a budget in fiscal 2020 of $4.8 billion, down from $7.1 billion in the current fiscal year.

Congress boosted funding for the Corps this year above the administration’s request, allowing the Corps to allocate $89.7 million this year for continued work on the replacement lock at the Chickamauga Dam. The lock project has more than doubled in cost to an estimated $758 million since it began nearly a decade and a half ago, but Alexander blamed much of the increased expense on the unreliable funding schedule for the project.

“I can’t count the number of times that the head of the Corps–including General (Todd) Semonite–has told me that it makes no sense to start and stop construction,” Alexander said. “It’s not an efficient way to build projects and it is a waste of taxpayer money.”

But the Office of Management and Budget has proposed cutting funding for the project, despite having spent more than $250 million so far, because the cargo shipments through the lock have dropped while the expense of completion has risen. That no longer makes the lock cost efficient under the OMB’s funding formula.

But Alexander said allowing the existing, crumbling lock to close in Chattanooga would push more than 150,000 trucks on to Interstate 75 and raise shipping expenses for businesses in the region.

“We just heard the Corps say it could spend $92.3 million next year on Chickamauga Lock, and we should do our best to make sure they have those dollars.”

Wednesday’s hearing was the third of the subcommittee’s four budget hearings this year on the fiscal 2020 budget.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Waterways Council, Inc.