Passing Zone

Lessons of Water Win Could Pave Way for Highway Victory

December 12, 2016

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Leadership, willingness to negotiate, and dealing in hard facts helped steer a major water infrastructure bill through Congress. Photo: U.S. Department of Transportation
Leadership, willingness to negotiate, and dealing in hard facts helped steer a major water infrastructure bill through Congress. Photo: U.S. Department of Transportation

What it took for Congress to pass a major water-side infrastructure bill on Dec. 10 “may foreshadow the struggles lawmakers are likely to face” if they take up the massive highway-infrastructure package that President-elect Donald Trump has promised to send to Congress next year, contends transportation reporter Brianna Gurciullo, writing in Politico’s Morning Transportation blog for Dec.12.

Trump made it known right after the election that he aims to spend big on infrastructure--- saying he would send a $1 trillion plan up to Capitol Hill in his first 100 days. “We are going to fix our inner cities and rebuild our highways, bridges, tunnels, airports, schools, hospitals,” he stated flat-out in his post-election victory speech.

The marine-transportation legislation, which started out titled the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) and wound up being called the Water Infrastructure Improvements Act for the Nation (WIIN), authorizes navigation, flood control and drinking water projects, including funding to address the drinking water crisis in Flint, Mich.

WIIN authorizes more and deeper federal dredging of seaport harbors as well as some inland waterway projects that support barge freight operations, per an AASHTO Journal post. That report also noted that the included flood projects “often can help protect highways and other surface transportation infrastructure that state DOTs directly manage.”

In her post, Gurciullo capsulized what environmental reporter Annie Snider discerned in another Politico story to be the key elements that eventually secured passage of the extensive waterworks bill:

Leadership. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-OK) and Ranking Member Barbara Boxer (D-CA) were “willing to work together on the issue of infrastructure.” However, come January, Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) will take over as committee chairman “and he is less enthusiastic about transportation and infrastructure issues.”

Negotiations. “Republicans in the House were against the idea” of federal aid for Flint, preferring that the city's problems with lead-contaminated water be handled by state and local officials. Still, Snider wrote that negotiators who worked through the issues "shows the extent of appetite in both chambers for infrastructure measures.” What’s more, House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA) “hit on a powerful message for his caucus in his drive for the 2014 WRDA bill: reasserting congressional authority on infrastructure."

Hard facts.  Stephen Martinko, a former tansportation committee aide who worked on that 2014 bill, told Snider that "being able to point to specific needs and how the measure would solve them-- rather than handing a pile of cash over to the agencies to use at their discretion-- was critical, and will continue to be so.”

Of course, it remains to be seen if trucking advocates will be as successful pushing Congress to approve a similarly extensive highway-infrastructure bill next year. But at least they now have a proven roadmap to consult.

Related: Whose Infrastructure— Ours or Theirs?

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David Cullen

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Executive Editor David Cullen comments on the positive and negative factors impacting trucking – from the latest government regulations and policy initiatives coming out of Washington DC to the array of business and societal pressures that also determine what truck-fleet managers must do to ensure their operations keep on driving ahead.

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