By Dean Franks, senior vice president, congressional relations, ARTBA

Both the House Transportation & Infrastructure (T&I) and Senate Environment & Public Works (EPW) Committees the week of May 21 passed Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) reauthorization bills.  The measures would authorize numerous port, waterway, and general maritime construction projects that are proposed by localities and built through the Army Corps of Engineers.

The House legislation follows the direction of the Senate bill (summarized here) in that it reauthorizes some safety programs and advance construction projects.  The projected federal costs of the projects authorized in the House bill is $3 billion.  Like the Senate bill, the House bill deauthorizes $3 billion in previously approved projects that are no longer priorities.

Unlike the Senate proposal, the House bill also includes a provision to mandate the spenddown of the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF) if a balance remains after 10 years.  The HMTF collects user fee revenue from users of the nation’s ports, harbors and inland waterways to be spent on construction projects on the nation’s water transportation systems.  The HMTF currently has a balance of nearly $10 billion and continues to grow.

The T&I committee approved bill also does not reauthorize the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) program.  The WIFIA program allows for loan guarantee and financing for complex water infrastructure projects and public-private partnerships in this space. The program, however, is expected to be included in any final WRDA measure.

As mentioned in the summary of the Senate bill, it is important to remember while authorizing these projects and getting the Army Corps of Engineers priority approval are critical steps in the process, funding for these projects and programs still must be secured through the annual appropriations process.  The failure to fully fund the water resource programs at their authorized levels over the years has led to an estimated $100 billion backlog of water infrastructure improvement projects.

While further action on the House and Senate floor has yet to be scheduled, passage of a new WRDA law is one of the few infrastructure bills expected to pass this year.  GOP congressional leaders have said moving a WRDA bill should be considered part of their multi-phased response to President Trump’s campaign pledge to make robust investments in infrastructure.

ARTBA will continue to push for enactment of a robust water infrastructure investment bill this year and will keep you apprised as this process moves forward.