U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) today announced that he and a bipartisan group of senators will introduce legislation, called the American Waterworks Act, to modernize America's ports, locks, and dams, including Chickamauga Lock.
Alexander, along with Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), has been working with a bipartisan group of senators to address major shortfalls in U.S. port and waterway infrastructure, in preparation for the 2014 completion of the expansion of the Panama Canal, which will provide the U.S. with more trade opportunities.
Alexander said that the legislation would do two things to help ensure construction of Chickamauga Lock, which is a high priority for the Army Corps of Engineers: First, it would free up funds in the Inland Waterways Trust Fund to be used on priorities such as Chickamauga Lock by ending the requirement that trust fund revenues go to pay for Olmsted Lock on the Ohio River, a project that has been soaking up almost 90 percent of fund revenues. Second, Alexander said, it would nearly double the amount of money in the trust fund by doing exactly what the lock's commercial users have requested--increasing the user fees they pay.
Construction on Chickamauga Lock would create a wider and longer lock able to handle multiple jumbo barges at a time, increasing the volume of cargo that can come through the lock while decreasing the time it would take to get it through.
Earlier this year, in a hearing of the Senate Appropriations Committee's Subcommittee on Energy and Water, Alexander said that completing Chickamauga Lock would "take 100,000 heavy trucks off I-75 while allowing 6.7 million tons of cargo to move through the lock."
Alexander told media and local officials present at the lock today that completing the lock "was without a doubt one of the best things we could do to improve road safety while at the same time increasing the amount of goods that come through Tennessee waterways."
Alexander told the gathering, "We have two trust funds to deal with waterway infrastructure like the Chickamauga Lock, and neither of them works. The Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund collects a lot of money, but doesn't spend it well. The Inland Waterways Trust Fund doesn't collect much money, but spends it well. This bill would fix the way our ports and waterways are funded so that we can meet the challenges they face, and passing this bill would mean Chickamauga Lock gets the funding it will need to be completed."
The bill would do the following:
Remove the requirement that Olmsted Lock be funded using Inland Waterways Trust Fund revenues (currently Olmsted Lock on the Ohio River requires $147 million of the $170 million in annual funding available for inland lock construction and rehabilitation and taking it out of the Inland Waterways Trust Fund will free up revenue to address needed lock and dam repairs across the country)
Provide full federal funding for maintenance of harbors up to 50 feet deep (currently it is only full funding up to 45 feet, but the Panama Canal expansion will accommodate ships with a 50 foot depth)
Establish an accounting method for revenues from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund that will allow them to offset annual Harbor Maintenance spending
Speed up construction permit approval and provides states with the ability to appeal slow moving regulatory decision making
Authorize a 5-year construction program to expand harbors to accommodate the larger ships expected after the Panama Canal expansion
Increase revenue to Inland Waterways Trust Fund in a manner consistent with the agreement between the Inland Waterways Users and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Require Inland Waterways construction projects follow the plan agreed to by the Inland Waterways Users and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Fund Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund and Inland Waterways Trust Fund construction projects to authorized widths and depths as part of the 5-year construction program.
Fund landside infrastructure at ports