What is in this article?:
- Aging inland waterways infrastructure to be rehabbed?
- Crumbling structures, costs
• An aging U.S. waterway infrastructure may be set to get a funding boost from Congress that will allow for more than a facelift.
• Waterways carry more than 60 percent of America’s grain and other commodity exports and other commodities.
Crumbling structures, costs
In terms of the 50-year shelf life of the lock and dams, is there actually crumbling of the structures?
“Yes, particularly in the Pittsburgh region where many of the most aged structures are. Construction of many of these was begun in the early 1900s and they are now showing their age. Others were started but not yet completed because the funding isn’t adequate.
“Each year, money is authorized for these projects but isn’t fully appropriated. It’s like building a house over decades instead of just in a year. Instead of the house costing $100,000 and taking 12 months to build, the cost soars as you take longer and longer. That isn’t smart or efficient because the cost of materials continues to rise, there are delays and contractors switch out.”
How much is needed to fund the needed construction?
“What we’re looking for is an annual, sustained amount of $380 million per year for the next 20 years. Now, $110 million of that would be paid for our user fees. The rest would come from the government.
“We came up with that figure because of several things. The Capital Development Plan was formulated a couple of years ago by the Inland Waterways Users Board, primarily industry folks and members of the Corps of Engineers.
“The elements of the board’s development plan are in legislative form in a House bill (WAVE 4) and companion Senate legislation. WAVE 4 was actually introduced in 2012 and reintroduced just last week. At the end of February, the River Act was introduced in the Senate.
“The bill calls for a number of things. First, they’d raise the amount of the user fee from 20 cents to between 26 and 29 cents per gallon. … We want to raise the amount we pay because it’s an investment that will pay off later.
“Second, we want to prioritize needed projects across the board. We need a matrix based on how far along they are, what their cost/benefit ratio is. Are all the Environmental Impact Statements completed? Are we starting from scratch?
“We’ve also asked the government to take on the dam features of these projects. That would allow us to focus on using the user fee to pay for the new construction and rehab of the locks.”
On waterways and agriculture…
“The cheapest and cost-competitive way for the ag community to get products to export markets is by barge on the waterways. That’s why we have a tremendous agricultural advocacy groups that belong to the Waterways Council. Truck or train just can’t compete.”
Do you think Congress is listening to you during these austere times?
“The problem is there are so many competing interests. There are also a couple of issues with lawmakers who have taken a ‘no earmark’ pledge. Then, you have others in Congress who have taken a ‘no taxes’ pledge. We think this is a user fee but anything that even smells like a tax can be problematic — even when you’re calling for a rise in the amount you pay personally.
“Even so, we do think the way the water situation with the middle Mississippi River and drought raised the alarm on these issues in a big way. Those concerns went right to the White House and key members of Congress.
“There’s also the potential of the Panama Canal expansion and what that could bring. Many lawmakers don’t want to be unprepared to reap all the benefits of that. That’s driving some of this.”
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