Opinion: Water legislation works for Georgia’s infrastructure

Addressing the nation’s infrastructure needs has been at the forefront of major policy discussions in Washington ever since the 2016 presidential campaign. The Trump Administration should be credited for raising the profile of this critical issue while taking bold steps to expedite the completion of critical infrastructure.

As leaders of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, we have put forward important pieces of legislation to improve and reform the way we invest in infrastructure. These bills have gained bipartisan support because our fellow Committee Members know how essential infrastructure is to America and our nation’s economic competitiveness.

As many in Washington continue to discuss the issue, our committee is moving ahead with our work. Several weeks ago, the House approved an FAA and aviation infrastructure bill by a vote of 393 to 13.

Last month, we introduced the Water Resources Development Act of 2018 (WRDA) to focus on our ports, dams, inland waterways, ecosystem restoration, flood protection systems and other water resources infrastructure. This infrastructure is vital to transporting goods from our country’s interior to our coasts, connecting and protecting our communities, and allowing American-made products to better compete in foreign markets.

WRDA authorizes the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) to study and undertake these enhancements, and our committee helped ensure WRDAs were signed into law in both 2014 and 2016.

However, before 2014, Congress failed to pass a WRDA for seven years, allowing infrastructure improvements to stall while their costs increased with each passing year of inaction.

Thanks to a return to regular order – something we intend for Congress to maintain in 2018 – WRDA now works for America.

For example, the Port of Savannah Harbor Expansion Project (SHEP) was approved in the 2014 WRDA bill and is now 50 percent complete. An updated authorization in the new WRDA bill we introduced will allow the project to continue as intended.

These are not merely local projects. Whether you live in Savannah, in West Point, or anywhere else in the country, the goods you use every day find their way to you after traveling through a U.S. port or along a portion of our 12,000 miles of navigable waterways. Furthermore, domestically grown or produced goods from Georgia and every other state, including grain, coal, iron, steel, petroleum, and more, move by water, much of it in foreign trade. Shipping cargo by waterway is efficient, and also significantly reduces the strain on our congested highways.

The importance of our water infrastructure was recently highlighted in other ways as well. In light of the widespread devastation caused by natural disasters in 2017, it is worth noting that the Corps operates and maintains approximately 700 dams in the United States, and over 14,000 miles of levees are in the Corps’ Levee Safety Program. Millions of Americans and over a trillion dollars’ worth of property and goods are protected by these levees. In general, every dollar invested in flood protection provides eight dollars in economic benefit.

Clearly, the Corps’ missions are vital, but the agency can be notoriously slow. Our bill will help improve Corps efficiency and further expedite the project delivery process.

There are many other examples of why WRDA works. That’s why the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is once again acting to improve our water resources infrastructure, cut red tape that slows down these improvements, and move America’s infrastructure into the 21st century.

U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., is chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. U.S. Rep. Drew Ferguson, R-Ga., serves on the committee and represents Georgia’s 3rd Congressional District.

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