By Lauren Schapker, vice president of legislative affairs, ARTBA

Projects to support dredging, navigation and other waterways projects are authorized for two years, as a part of the Water Resources Development Act of 2020 (WRDA) that Congress included in the year-end spending and COVID relief package. WRDA authorizes $16 billion for 46 pending Army Corps of Engineers projects, enabling transport improvements at ports and along inland waterways.

WRDA will also allow for the gradual spend-down of Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF) user fee revenues. The legislation increases spending from the HMTF by $500 million in FY 2021, with an additional $100 million authorized each year until the $10 billion balance in the HMTF is spent down. This will end the practice of accumulating marine transportation user fees and ensure they are spent on their intended purposes – waterway infrastructure improvements at the nation’s ports and harbors.

While an authorization of these projects and programs is critical for infrastructure improvements to move forward, the annual appropriations process is ultimately where spending levels for water resources projects are ultimately decided. Recent spending laws have fallen short of authorized levels, though the gap is closing.

See ARTBA coverage of other Omnibus/COVID Relief News:

The supplemental spending measure was passed as part of the massive year-end bill that also contained COVID relief legislation that would provide aid to a range of transportation programs, including $10 billion to state departments of transportation. Learn more about aid for state DOTs.

Small businesses will receive additional support through renewal of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and clarity around tax deductibility of PPP loans was also provided in the COVID relief package. Learn more about small business aid.

The year-end legislation provides supplemental expenditures for transportation programs of nearly $4 billion above authorized levels. This is the fourth consecutive year transportation programs received supplemental spending. Learn more about year-end spending bills.