House lawmakers on Wednesday are scheduled to discuss a long-awaited transportation and waterways infrastructure bill that could authorize improvements for many inland waterways used daily to transport grain and other commodities.
The Water Resources Reform and Development Act, or WRRDA, passed through the House Transportation Committee in September. The Senate previously approved its own version of the bill in May.
The bill would authorize the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to maintain waterways infrastructure needs and support flood protection and environmental restoration. If approved in the House, it would represent the first time a new water resources bill has been passed since 2007. Historically, bills authorizing water infrastructure improvements and updates were considered every two years.
According to American Farm Bureau transportation specialist Andrew Walmsley, the bill will have a big impact on agriculture, given that 60% of U.S. grain travels through inland waterways and 95% of exports and imports go out of a port. Additionally, 41 states are served by inland waterways.
The biggest impacts could be seen for the aging lock and dam systems, many of which were erected in the 1920s, Walmsley said in an AFBF interview. He explained that expansions to the Panama Canal have resulted in larger barges that need to be accommodated by improving the inland transportation system.
To handle those improvements, the bill suggests streamlining the review process so the Corps can work faster on needed projects. According to the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, what once took five years for review can now take 10-15 years, delaying needed repairs and maintenance.
Committee Chairman Bill Shuster, R-Penn., said earlier this year he also expects the bill to allow non-federal investment in waterways infrastructure, thereby improving investment due to limited federal funds.