So, while Panama is quickly and efficiently tripling the cargo capacity of the Panama Canal, and other countries around the world like Brazil are increasing their port draft and inland waterway systems to take advantage of the new capacity, the U.S. system will move backwards for  at least the next decade because of the inefficiency and ineptness of our system for construction and repair.

What this means is that when the new capacity of the Panama Canal comes online, the U.S. inland waterway system, which is already surviving on Band-Aids and duct tape, will be less efficient and less effective than it is today.

I realize that, to some, comparing the Panama Canal with the U.S. Inland Waterway System will be considered apples to oranges. Perhaps this is the case. But taking seven years to complete the canal on budget and on time, compared to more than 20 years and being over budget by a factor of four (and climbing) is a lot more than fruit salad. 

Our current system of approving, funding, constructing and repairing our Inland Waterway System is not just broken — it’s a national embarrassment. It is time for Congress to acknowledge that and do what needs to be done to get our system fixed. We dug the original Panama Canal. Heaven knows that if we were playing by the same system then as we are now, we would still be digging. 

Even worse, we are rapidly losing competitive advantage. What will it take? It will take vision to see and understand the need and the opportunity. It will take leadership to open doors. And it will take gumption to move forward. It will take, as did Panama more than a century ago, someone like Theodore Roosevelt to cut through the red tape and bureaucracy and say “Get it done!”