A study released by the Government Accountability Office on Tuesday says there should be more coordination between the Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Department of Transportation to improve marine transportation system (MTS) infrastucture.
The Corps of Engineers is the lead federal agency responsible for maintaining and improving navigable waterways, and the report noted that obligations for navigable waterways have decreased from over $3 billion in fiscal year 2009 to about $1.8 billion in fiscal year 2011.
Funding also comes from the DOT, but the report said "most annual DOT funding is provided to states through formulas, and states determine which projects to fund. For example, in fiscal year 2011, the Surface Transportation Program provided $9.5 billion to states for a variety of transportation projects, which may have included port improvements. However, because DOT does not specifically track formula funding used to maintain or improve ports or port connectors, officials were unable to provide GAO the extent to which these funds were used for port improvements, although the officials stated that the number of port-specific projects was likely small. Several DOT grant and credit programs can also provide specific funding to ports, though ports are primarily responsible for maintaining and improving infrastructure on port property."
The report summary said aging marine transportation infrastructure, including locks that are over 100 years old, a growing backlog of projects, and the lack of an prioritization strategy "represent key challenges for the Corps and DOT to maintain and improve MTS infrastructure."
The condition of some structures such as locks "has resulted in deteriorating performance and costly delays to shippers."
The reports said "while the Corps is prioritizing projects within its navigation program, DOT has a more limited ability to prioritize funding for port infrastructure projects because the majority of DOT's funding goes to the states where decisions about transportation priorities are made at the state and local level."
The report added the recently-enacted Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act, or "MAP 21," requires DOT to develop a National Freight Strategic Plan and to consult with appropriate transportation stakeholders, but said DOT and the Corps have historically had limited coordination involving system-wide MTS investments.
"Involving the Corps in the development of the National Freight Strategic Plan is particularly important given the critical role navigable waterways play in freight movement," GAO said.
It also said the "Committee on the Marine Transportation System (CMTS), a partnership of federal agencies chaired by DOT, has the opportunity to take further actions to help ensure that its 2008 National Strategy for the Marine Transportation System
is reviewed and updated to reflect new and emerging challenges, and that its 34 recommendations to improve the MTS are implemented.
"One recommendation included studying approaches to allocate federal dollars among competing transportation priorities." GAO said. - Chris Dupin