Obama Signs $12.3 Billion Measure to Expand U.S. Ports

President Barack Obama signed into law a $12.3 billion water-projects plan that will pay for deepening ports for bigger ships, cutting costs for exporters.

The law is the first water infrastructure bill since 2007 and authorizes 34 projects including dredging, flood control, hurricane recovery and environmental restoration. A key part of it is funding the dredging of U.S. ports to accommodate bigger ships being built to pass through the expanded Panama Canal.

“World class infrastructure is one of the reasons America became a superpower in the first place,” Obama said at the White House. He urged lawmakers to follow up the water-projects legislation with action on a surface-transportation funding bill.

Lawmakers changed the way U.S. shipping projects are funded. The bill permits ports to pay the cost of deepening harbors up front and seek federal reimbursement later.

The goal is to reduce construction time by years for such projects as Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

The dredging will increase the number of U.S. ports that can handle super freighters built by Maersk Inc. and Mediterranean Shipping Co. to take advantage of a $5.2 billion expansion of the Panama Canal, scheduled for completion in 2015. Expanded capacity would reduce shipping costs for such exporters as Caterpillar Inc. and Cargill Inc.

House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, applauded the bipartisan support for passage. He said in a statement that it “marks a significant break from the past, when both parties loaded up this bill with billions in taxpayer-funded earmarks. I’m proud that it contains absolutely zero earmarks.”

The bill is H.R. 3080.

Separately, Obama also signed a bill to award the Congressional Gold Medal to the 65th Infantry and Regiment, known as the “Borinqueneers,” the last segregated military unit of mostly Puerto Rican soldiers to play prominent roles in World War I, World War II and the Korean War.

The bill is H.R. 1726.

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