Sen. Lindsey Graham said he's working on national port legislation that would create a “merit-based” system for funding port infrastructure.
“This bill changes the way we deepen ports and it sets aside money to make sure there will be money there available to us,” he said.
Speaking last month at a meeting of the South Carolina Ports Authority board, Graham described plans to create a $20 billion fund that would include $9 billion for deepening East Coast ports such as Charleston, $3 billion for building road and rail infrastructure at West Coast ports, and money to improve the inland waterway system, which he said is “falling apart.” (The South Carolina Ports Authority has posted a video with excerpts from his remarks.
Graham said the system would replace earmarking, which he said was “a bad practice in the sense that you just looked to your backyard. If you were on an appropriations committee your ports got funded pretty well, if you were not, you were in a pretty bad spot.
“Earmarking was a political approach; this is going to be a business approach. To get money from the federal government you are going to have to prove that it is a benefit to the country as a whole and not just to your backyard,” he said.
“There will be a merit-based system, a formula,” Graham said, adding that “I think Charleston will do exceedingly well.“
Charleston is seeking to deepen its main shipping channels from 45 to 50 feet, although the port is able to handle ships drawing up to 48 feet at high tide today.
“West Coast ports do not need to go deeper, they have congestion alongside their ports. So the West Coast would get about $3 billion to build new roads, rail services to get product to market,” Graham said.
Under his legislation, inland waterways would be able to modernize their locks and dams and dredge the Mississippi River, he said. - Chris Dupin