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Cost Share Change Could Be Increased, Made Permanent (Opinion)

May 20, 2022   The Waterways Journal

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The Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee recently passed its version of the Water Resources Development Act out of committee—unanimously. It included a provision to permanently change the cost-share of lock and dam projects to 75 percent federal, with 25 percent coming from the Inland Waterways Trust Fund.


The House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure’s version of WRDA, passed May 18, doesn’t include that cost-share provision, but it can be added back in the reconciliation process. Assuming passage in the full Senate and House, WRDA’s fate, and the fate of that provision, will be up to the conference committee that will reconcile the two versions. 


It’s hard to imagine a broader coalition of support for a timely WRDA than that shown by statements of support posted on the Senate’s EPWC website. Just about every infrastructure, construction, farm and transportation group out there is urging its quick passage, including the National Governors Association, National Association of State Legislatures, Chamber of Commerce, United States Conference of Mayors, Transportation Construction Coalition, National Grain and Feed Association, Great Lakes Coalition, American Association of Port Authorities and many more.


The 2020 WRDA enacted a positive shift when it changed the federal cost-share for lock and dam projects to 65/35—but that change came with a sunset provision that is set to expire in 2031. The 2014 WRRDA specified a federal cost-share for Olmsted Lock and Dam of 85 percent, a change that allowed the timely and under-budget completion of that crucial project, to the great benefit of waterways users and the American economy. 


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A permanent 75/25 cost share has long been sought by the inland industry, which voluntarily increased its own taxes that support the trust fund. “If you look at it from a purely inland waterways standpoint, it’s an extremely critical thing to happen,” Waterways Council Inc. President Tracy Zea has said. “You’re moving 24 or 21 projects from being completed in 40 years to 20 years. That’s a significant time reduction, which allows our operators to become more efficient, shippers save money, and the price of goods goes down.”


A permanent change to a 75/25 cost-share would go a long way toward slowing depletion of the trust fund and making up for decades of underinvestment and neglect of our antiquated lock and dam system. 


With our current climate of geopolitical uncertainty, supply change disruptions and commodity shortages, the time could not be riper for this commitment to lock and dam infrastructure.