Washington, DC -In a little-noticed report, the Transportation Research Board of the National Academies of Science is calling for an end to the pork barrel, parochial politics that has characterized highway and navigation financing and an embrace of regional planning, more cost-sharing by users with “users’ willingness to pay” as the guide star for future investment. Its findings and recommendations echo many of the proposals from environmental and taxpayer organizations who have sought reform of the Army Corps of Engineers, the agency responsible for water-borne commerce.

The report, Freight Capacity for the 21st Century, advocates a less expensive approach for maintaining the infrastructure of transport. Congress is now poised to consider authorizing legislation for highway, water navigation and air traffic systems. If followed, these recommendations would revolutionize how Congress evaluates and funds projects. Rather than simply building more roads, expanding ports and enlarging airports, the report advocates smarter, more strategic management and investment decisions.

“The National Academies of Sciences report shows why inefficient subsidies to inland waterways are a colossal waste of taxpayers dollars,” said Jeff Stein, senior policy analyst at Taxpayers for Common Sense, a national budget watchdog. “In fact, the only form of transportation that is more heavily subsidized is space travel.”

Key portions of the report conclude –

“The Administration and Congress should reexamine the planning process for new projects as well as the present rules on funding formulas and sources for harbor and channel improvements, with the goal of ensuring that available funding is concentrated on the projects with greatest net benefits. The following reform measures should be considered:

• Deauthorization review, that is, systematic review of the justification for all authorized harbor and waterway projects;

• Regional planning for port capacity or regionalization of port investment decisions;

• Greater reliance on local cost-sharing and user fees; and

• Strengthened requirements for independent review of evaluations of federal harbor and waterways projects.

Congress should sustain the cost-sharing reforms of the 1986 Water Resources Development Act by refraining from waiving or bypassing local match requirements.” (page ES-8)

“Congress and the Administration should direct the Corps of Engineers to improve the efficiency of congested locks on inland waterways through demand management. In its authorizations and appropriations for Corps Civil Works activities, Congress should begin to rely on revenues from user fees to fund inland waterways operation and maintenance as well as capital expenditures.Increased reliance on segment-specific user fees would tend to discourage expenditures on little used waterway segments. For the longer run, new institutional arrangements should be sought for inland waterways management-for example, operation by regional authorities-that would entail less federal subsidization of waterway operation and expansion.

To promote efficient use of waterways and harbors and to be perceived as fair by the payers, fee structures should take into account the costs attributable to all users, including commercial navigation, other private navigation, and public and nonnavigation uses of facilities.” (pageES-9).

“The current federal funding system subsidizes over-development of our nation’s rivers and harbors,” said Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).”If the users paid their fair share, many of the most environmentally devastating dams and dredging projects would never have been built.”


Background information about the NAS report and transportation financing.

Funded by the Federal Highway Administration, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, National Cooperative Highway Research Program, and the Transportation Research Board of the National Research Council, the report is available at Taxpayers for Common Sense(TCS) is a non-partisan voice for American taxpayers. TCS is dedicated to cutting wasteful spending and subsidies in order to achieve a responsible and efficient government that lives within its means.

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