By Jacob Fischler, CQ Roll Call

A group of port executives made a pitch to House staff members Thursday to be part of any broad package of infrastructure spending that moves through Congress this year. 

President Donald Trump campaigned on a pledge to spend $1 trillion on infrastructure over 10 years. Lawmakers have since said they are waiting for the president to submit a proposal.

Given the focus on infrastructure by both Congress and the new administration, the time was ripe to address backlogged port maintenance projects, said Mark McAndrews, the chairman of the American Association of Port Authorities.

McAndrews, the director of the Port of Pascagoula in Mississippi, was joined by the heads of ports in California, New York, Texas and Indiana. The group told a room of staff members for lawmakers who are members of the Ports Opportunity, Renewal, Trade and Security Caucus in the House that investments in ports, harbors and waterways should be part of any infrastructure legislation that moves this year. Billions of dollars in backlogged projects threaten the economic benefits that ports bring to the national economy, they said.

According to AAPA president Kurt Nagle, cargo activity at ports supports over 23 million jobs and touches 25 percent of the national economy. Federal investment in ports infrastructure, he said, would spur other investment. A recent survey by the association projected that ports intend to invest more than $155 billion over the next five years, he said.

“But for America to be internationally competitive, it’s critical that the federal government uphold its end of the partnership and invest in port-related infrastructure on both the landside and the waterside,” Nagle said.

Nagle, McAndrews and the other ports advocates encouraged Congress to spend some of the roughly $9 billion surplus in the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund» that receives revenue from taxes collected on imports and exports.

The issue has long been a priority for House Transportation and Infrastructure ranking Democrat Peter A. DeFazio of Oregon, who last year moved a measure through a water resources bill in the committee that would have allowed the trust fund surplus to be spent without a specific appropriation. The measure was stripped from the final law (PL 114-322).

DeFazio has proposed the measure again, saying the federal government could address maintenance projects like harbor and channel «dredging, rehabilitation and replacement of locks, jetties and breakwaters without raising taxes. DeFazio has said the measure would allow up to $27 billion in harbor maintenance over the next decade.

In addition to direct federal investment in ports projects, the industry would benefit from a package that included federal investment in rail and highway infrastructure, McAndrews said.

“A lot of the port infrastructure needs are going to be addressed in general land-side infrastructure or maritime infrastructure,” McAndrews said in an interview following the briefing. “I don’t think it’s exclusive of anything else. I think it’s all part of it.”

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W. Va., who sits on the Environment and Public Works Committee and the Senate Appropriations Transportation-HUD Subcommittee, said Thursday she’d support offset federal investment in ports infrastructure.
“I think modernizing infrastructure should include ports,” she said.