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Waterside Infrastructure
ONC Editorial

Jul 26, 2023

Explaining recent legislation improving waterside infrastructure.

Waterside infrastructure refers to buildings and other structures in and around harbors to facilitate trade, including ports and surrounding public works. America’s waterside infrastructure, especially ports, is under more strain than ever before. This has been exacerbated by the supply chain issues accompanying the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Ports in the United States range from operational ports managed by state or local government through a port authority, to landlord ports leased by a port authority to the private sector. To pay for general maintenance, the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF) was created, issuing a fee of $1.25 per $1000 of imported cargo put towards port maintenance. 

However, 80% of surveyed ports agree that they need at least $10 million each for new improvement projects. But due to the structure of the HMTF, surplus funding goes towards deficit correction. 

Some argue that we need to find new revenue streams to meet the demands of port authorities across America. That said, raising said revenue through further taxation could be politically risky. Some also view it as economically inefficient. 

Fortunately, there's an alternative. Between 2016 and 2020, private sector investment in ports and other waterside infrastructure dramatically increased, and will likely continue to do so with $155 billion planned for the next five years as of 2018. This is due to the increase in size of neo-Panamax ships, which now have the ability to transport as many as 10,000 containers, driving market demand for expanding ports. 

Furthermore, the Biden administration’s American Jobs Plan allocated an additional $115 billion for modernizing bridges, as well as $17 billion to improve ports and waterways. This, in conjunction with further private sector investment, could provide a major break for ports in desperate need for improvements.

Martin Clake is a graduate from American University. He received his Bachelor of Arts for Political Science.


Campanelli, Bryce. “A Deep Dive on America's Ports.” Bipartisan Policy Center, Bipartisan Policy Center, 27 July 2017,

America's Ports: Global Maritime Hub. 12 Dec. 2018,

“What's in President Biden's American Jobs Plan?” Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget,

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