Waterway advocates are optimistic about the state of funding for construction on two major lock and dam projects aimed at improving river traffic in the region.
Debra Colbert is senior vice-president at Waterways Council, Inc., a Capitol Hill public policy shop. She says the House and Senate have beefed up President Barack Obama’s proposed budget for construction on projects like the Olmsted Locks and Dam near Paducah and the new Kentucky Dam lock.
“In February, when the president’s FY16 budget was released, it did cut funding for the Army Corps of Engineers’ civil works mission by about 13.5 percent, which is extremely disappointing," Colbert said. "But then the House plussed up the numbers and the Senate plussed up the numbers and so, in the construction budget alone, it was plussed up by 40 percent.”
Both the Senate and House appropriations bills have been approved but have yet to be conferenced together.
Colbert said drumming up support for the necessary appropriations is a year-to-year struggle, but has become easier in recent years.
"We're seeing a three-year trend line that is really showing funding going up and that's the right direction for it to go," Colbert said. "For too long, these projects, across the board, have been woefully underfunded and this is a critical part of the transportation supply chain that is often out of sight, out of mind."
The Olmsted project has previously secured a $2.9 billion spending authorization and was on track to be finished by 2020. The total cost for the Kentucky Dam addition project is $862 million, with an earliest-possible completion date of 2023.