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Welcome Cascade of Funding for Ports and Waterways (Opinion)

March 4, 2022   The Waterways Journal

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The American Society of Civil Engineers has done much to publicize America’s need for more infrastructure investment through its Infrastructure Report Card published every four years. In its 2021 report card, ASCE reported that for the first time in 20 years, America’s overall infrastructure “GPA” was a C-, up from a D+ in 2017. States and localities were already stepping up even before the passage of the historic Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act last year. ASCE noted that in November 2020, 98 percent of local infrastructure ballot initiatives passed. Public support for infrastructure investment remains high. 


Port authorities and the Corps of Engineers are welcoming the fuller funding environment. A record investment of nearly $450 million in available grant funding through the Port Infrastructure Development Program, doubling last year’s investments, was recently announced by the Maritime Administration, following by two months its announcement of the award of more than $241 million in grant funding for 25 projects to improve port facilities in 19 states and one territory through PIDP.


On March 2, MarAd announced the availability of $25 million in funding for the America’s Marine Highway Program. It’s the biggest single appropriation of funding ever provided to the program. “This historic funding for the Marine Highways program will expand waterborne transportation options while helping project sponsors increase energy conservation, improve safety, reduce landside infrastructure costs and reduce travel delays caused by congestion. This investment will also create well-paying maritime jobs,” said acting Maritime Administrator Lucinda Lessley. To be eligible for a grant award, a project must have previously been designated as a Marine Highway Project by the secretary of Transportation. Applications for the grants are due on April 29. The funding will help port districts that have spent years planning to meet the logistics challenges of the future to be able to move forward with their plans. 


The Corps recently announced $5.3 billion in investment along the Mississippi River Corridor that the Mississippi River Cities and Towns Initiative and Waterways Council Inc. lauded as “transformative.” 


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This year’s Water Resources Development Act is still being crafted. Lt. Gen. Scott Spellmon, chief of engineers and Corps commanding general, recently told the House water resources and environment subcommittee that since the last WRDA was enacted in December 2020, he has signed Chief’s Reports recommending approval for 14 projects and expects to sign reports for seven more by May, with another seven up for further consideration.


An adequately funded WRDA passed by the end of the year, added to the new IIJA funding, will ensure years of progress in rebuilding and maintaining infrastructure to unlock America’s future.