Seaport Magazine: Modernizing America's Ports for the Next Generation

By:  U.S. Sens. Jim Inhofe and Barbara Boxer
Seaport Magazine

America’s ports are an essential part of our nation’s economy, are necessary for maintaining a competitive edge in the global marketplace, and help create jobs.  Ports are the frontline of international commerce, moving goods from the heartland of America to foreign destinations and facilitating the import of products for consumption and manufacturing. 

Maritime shipping plays a vital role in moving goods safely, timely, and reliably, and freight passed through America’s ports is expected to increase significantly in the coming years.  Traffic through West Coast ports alone is projected to nearly triple by 2035.  There is a critical need to reduce congestion and improve freight movement. 

As freight movement increases, so does the size of the shipping vessels.  The newly deepened Panama Canal has given rise to larger vessels – some of which have 2.5 times the cargo capacity of vessels currently in use.  To address these larger vessels and improve the flow of commerce around the country, we need to aggressively modernize our ports and waterways through deepening projects and increased funding from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund.

As we began deliberating the Water Resources and Development of 2016 (WRDA 2016) earlier this year, we agreed to make the modernization of our ports and waterways a cornerstone of this bill, because it will boost the economy and create jobs. 

The bill authorizes several key port deepening projects at the Port of Brownsville in Texas, Port Everglades in Florida, and Charleston Harbor in South Carolina, that are critical for accommodating larger vessels and will better position our nation to capitalize on the projected increase of imports and exports over the next 20 years.  We also authorized necessary safety features at ports and along waterways in Alaska, Louisiana, New Hampshire, and Maine.     

Our new water resources bill also builds on critical reforms included in the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014 (WRRDA 2014).  First, we extend important programs to ensure equitable investment in all ports, including ports that contribute the most funds to the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund but receive little investment in return, and ports that are critical for our energy infrastructure. We also continue guaranteed funding for smaller, emerging ports. In addition, in WRRDA 2014, Congress changed the cost-share for maintenance dredging of navigation channels, allowing the Corps to fund the dredging of ports and harbors up to 50-feet.  To complement the change in maintenance responsibility, this new bill updates the cost-share for construction of new navigation features, which has not been changed in 30 years.  This change would allow Federal investment in the deepening of ports up to 50-feet, providing ports with the financial flexibility to make other infrastructure investments that will grow the economy and create jobs.  

In order to make the modernization of our ports and waterways a reality, Congress has to work together to improve our nation’s water resources infrastructure by passing WRDA 2016.  As the leaders of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, we have worked closely with Senate Democrats and Republicans, to ensure that all Members were heard.  Our message is clear – let’s pass a biennial WRDA, build on the reforms in WRRDA 2014 to empower the Army Corps and local sponsors to make our ports and waterways safe and reliable, and ensure they have the necessary infrastructure in place to handle increasing global trade.

WRDA 2016 will provide the necessary investments in our nation’s essential infrastructure, grow the economy, and create jobs.  We are very proud of this bipartisan legislation.  We are both committed to doing all we can to ensure the U.S. has world-class navigation and port facilities, and that starts with passing WRDA 2016.