Congress, with input from transportation groups, should use the next six months to develop a comprehensive, long-term funding plan to upgrade the nation’s transportation infrastructure, the head of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials said Tuesday.
The House was giving its final approval to a six-month extension of surface transportation legislation, as John Horsley, executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, addressed port executives in Seattle.
The nation’s ports and state departments of transportation are begging Congress to invest in growth amid a Washington environment averse to spending, Horsley told the annual conference of the American Association of Port Authorities.
“Since the Tea Party swept into town, it’s not how much you spend, but how much you cut,” he said.
AASHTO is generally associated with advocating for highway development, but the organization also supports port, rail and airport development to promote a more efficient freight transportation network, Horsley said. “We’re very much interested in port infrastructure,” he told the AAPA conference.
However, the environment in Washington for harbor maintenance and deepening and waterway development is not positive, either. “The trend is toward declining funds to maintain and improve waterways,” said Michael Fallon, programs director for the Army Corps of Engineers’ Southwest Division in Dallas.
The situation today would be even worse if it were not for stimulus money provided by the Obama administration, he said.
The difficulties that ports are experiencing in getting funding even for previously-approved maintenance work, let alone new harbor deepening projects, will most likely result in some East and Gulf Coast ports being unable to complete the deepening of their harbors by 2014, he said.
That’s the date when the Panama Canal will be enlarged to allow vessels of up to 12,500-TEU capacity to call at East and Gulf Coast ports. “We’re already behind the curve,” Fallon said.
For its part, the Corps is attempting to streamline its project feasibility study process, which can take six to 10 years, he added.
One concept under consideration is to shift from the current bottom to top process, where projects begin on the local level and move up to the Corps, to a top down process in which projects are nominated according to their importance in a national transportation infrastructure plan. That infrastructure blueprint has yet to be developed.
Under the current system, many individual projects each get a little money but most do not get enough money to be completed in a timely manner. The goal would be to fund fewer projects, but the most important projects would be funded fully, Fallon said.