ICYMI: Denham and Shuster Discuss Why WRDA Works in the Tracy Press
The Tracy Press
Our nation’s infrastructure has rarely received such attention as it has over the last year. The administration should be credited for helping to raise the profile of infrastructure, while taking direct steps to expedite the completion of projects. Time is money, and the longer it takes to bring infrastructure improvements on line, the higher the costs will escalate on taxpayer-funded projects.
As leaders of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, we have worked to develop and pass important legislation to improve infrastructure because it’s vital to the lives of the people we represent in many ways.
As the political discussion about infrastructure legislation continues to develop, our committee is moving ahead with its work. In April, for example, the House overwhelmingly approved our committee’s FAA and aviation infrastructure bill by a vote of 393 to 13.
As we wait for the Senate to act on that measure, we’ve turned to improving our water resources infrastructure. Our ports, dams, levees, inland waterways, storage facilities and flood protection systems serve as the arteries of American commerce, protecting communities and moving goods from the coasts to every point throughout the nation’s interior. Efficient water transportation also allows our farmers and businesses to be competitive by connecting them and their goods, resources, and food to the rest of the world.
For example, the farms and economy of California’s Central Valley depend on this infrastructure to deliver billions of dollars worth of fruits, vegetables and nuts to customers all over the globe. Ports like the inland hub of the Port of Stockton bring this bounty to the world, but without efficient navigation channels, shipping costs would skyrocket, suppressing the economy and damaging the region’s competitiveness as an international agricultural center.
To regularly consider and authorize U.S. Army Corps of Engineers projects like the Lower San Joaquin River flood damage reduction project and carry out water resources infrastructure improvements across the country, our committee takes up legislation known as the Water Resources Development Act. In 2014 and 2016, we ensured that this legislation was signed into law; the House has now approved the next WRDA measure, which we sponsored.
Many projects undertaken by the Corps are paid for by a minimal 0.125 percent fee on commercial cargo, which goes into the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund and is dedicated to the upkeep of the nation’s navigable harbors, like the Port of Oakland and the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. In WRDA 2014, our committee set goals for allocating Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund dollars to their intended purpose of responsibly maintaining safe, efficient navigation channels. As a result, Congress has increased its investment in our waterways, and WRDA 2018 continues that approach.
In the long term, this approach will save millions of dollars and improve the efficiency of moving goods. This matters to us all, because regardless of where we live, most products we use every day reach us via a port or along the 25,000 miles of our navigable waterways.
We will continue to work to achieve full utilization of the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund. We should also explore improving other existing programs, like the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act. We authorized WIFIA in 2014 to leverage federal dollars with state and local cost shares for clean and drinking water projects. Now, the Corps is pursuing the benefits of the program. Furthermore, Congress should consider the merits of Bureau of Reclamation financing to increase water storage in western states.
In addition to improving our critical waterborne transportation system, another of the Corps’ missions is maintaining the infrastructure that protects American communities from flooding. The importance of this mission is well known to the residents of the Central Valley and was recently emphasized further by the devastating natural disasters throughout the country in 2017. The Corps operates and maintains approximately 700 dams in the United States, and more than 14,000 miles of levees are in the Corps’ Levee Safety Program, infrastructure that protects millions of Americans and over a trillion dollars’ worth of property.
The 2014 and 2016 WRDA laws authorized flood risk management improvements around the country, because every dollar invested in flood protection provides $8 in economic benefit. WRDA 2018 continues to protect American communities and infrastructure from the threat of flood by investing in improvements like the Lower San Joaquin River flood damage reduction project.
There are many other examples of why WRDA works — for Californians, Pennsylvanians, and all of America. We look forward to working with the Senate to send WRDA and other infrastructure legislation to the president’s desk.
Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock, represents the 10th California Congressional District, including Tracy. He is a member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., has represented the 9th Pennsylvania Congressional District since 2001. He is the chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.