Western Pennsylvania's canal system of locks and dams is an economic generator in the region and beyond, and on Friday, Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) emphasized that it is a resource worth funding.
On the deck of a Gateway Clipper ship at Pittsburgh's Station Square, Casey congratulated river transportation officials for helping push for the River Act, which passed the Senate as part of the Water Resources Development Act. But he also reminded the crowd that there is still a ways to go.
"What we need now is the House to pass legislation which will not only include the provisions we had in our Senate bill, but also the House and the Senate need to work together on the financing, getting the fee from 20 cents to 29 cents," Casey said.
The fee is the industry’s diesel fuel user fee, which is paid per gallon. That extra revenue would help pay for the state and country's deteriorating locks and dams. The legislation includes:
- Increasing cost sharing for major rehabilitation projects from $8 million to $20 million.
- Appointment of an inland waterways user board, giving industry a voice in development projects.
- Adjustment of the federal cost share for the Olmsted Lock and Dam project, which would free up funding for other lock and dam projects. It would put the Lower Monongahela lock and dam replacement at the top of the list of projects funded by the Inland Waterways Trust Fund.
- Creation of a water infrastructure program that loans money to municipalities and utilities to upgrade waste and drinking water facilities.
Casey said he has written to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) about the merits of the legislation.
Peter Stephaich, CEO of Campbell Transportation Co., helped lead the group Waterways Council in its push for passage of the bills. He said they are working to get the Western Pennsylvania Congressional delegation on board.
"There's a lot of new members of Congress who frankly haven't gotten up to speed with this issue," Stephaich said. "In terms of the conservative group in the House, the most anti-any tax group, we've made the argument that this isn't really philosophically a tax."
He noted that the hundreds of companies that would be impacted by raising the barge fee from 20 to 29 cents are in favor of it. The revenue goes to the Inland Waterways Trust Fund, which was created to help fund construction and major rehabilitation on the country's locks and dams. The fund was set up to pay for half of the cost of each project, with the other half coming from general funds.