With consistent pledges by President Trump to address infrastructure, the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure is gearing up for the opportunity to be at the forefront of national policymaking.
While much of the discussion at the committee’s hearing to consider the needs of transportation infrastructure in the coming century focused on roads, bridges, and airports, it also included comments on forthcoming issues with the country’s extensive ports and inland waterways. Witnesses and committee members across the aisle were largely in agreement that addressing the issue begins by improving existing aging structures. Mr. David MacLennan (Chief Executive Officer, Cargill) expressed frustration with the growing demand and “unprecedented strain” on ports and inland waterways. He highlighted shallow sea ports that can’t accommodate newer, larger ships and the aging, small locks, which are “vital to the agriculture and rural economy,” and frequently shut down due to disrepair. CEOs from FedEx and BMW agreed, pointing out intensifying strain on maritime shipping from increasing ecommerce and automotive exports. There was additional discussion on longer-term threats, such as growing population and natural disasters (e.g., Hurricane Katrina), that could further stress, disrupt ports, and lead to major disturbances.
Committee members and witnesses were also in agreement that these complaints have long been discussed, and the problems are complicated and longstanding. Ideas to address them included passing major legislation to improve infrastructure; building public-private partnerships; increasing federal spending; creating effective tax policy; and spending the $9 billion surplus from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (which is financed by taxes on imports and exports at U.S. ports) on maintenance projects, such as accommodating new ships and fixing failing jetties. Representative Rodney Davis (IL-13) summed up the critical importance of investing in our nation’s infrastructure — it “helps to actually grow our economy, grow jobs, grows opportunity, and be a net benefit.”