"Our inland waterway system plays a crucial role in the nation's economy, and we must act now to help our future leaders understand that funding improvements is critical to maintaining their viability," says Garry Niemeyer, National Corn Growers Association president. "Acting together, we can magnify our voices, and thus our effectiveness, exponentially. Achieving our goal is not only important for farmers and shippers, our nation as a whole will benefit from the job creation and shipping efficiencies this project would generate."
NCGA representatives, as well as those from commodity organizations, shippers, barge operators and the Waterways Council Inc., met in Quincy, Ill., to discuss future navigation needs and options. The groups have agreed to move forward, under WCI’s leadership, to create a strategy to inform lawmakers and presidential candidates on the need for and importance of lock and dam improvements along the Mississippi River.
Specifically, WCI will next be reviewing an action proposed by former Illinois Congressman Jerry Weller, of the U.S. Strategies Corporation, and Phil Bradshaw, an Illinois farmer.
The country's inland navigation system moves more than 1 billion tons of domestic commerce valued at more than $300 billion annually. More than 1 billion bushels of grain, about 60 percent of all grain exports, move to export markets via the inland waterways each year, NCGA officials note.
The crumbling U.S. infrastructure is a vast concern and impacts more than roads and bridges. Inland navigation systems are increasingly overlooked, and with agricultural exports the only significant bright spot in the U.S. economy and trade sector, it’s critical to ensure that funding is not squeezed further.
“Investment in the Upper Mississippi and Illinois Waterways has not kept pace with the needs of the transportation sector,” NCGA officials point out. “The locks are outdated and deteriorating.”
In fact, the current lock system is nearly 80 years old and is unable to accommodate modern barge sizes and movement. Many of the locks are just 600 feet long, forcing 1,100-foot barge-tows to use the time-consuming and dangerous double-locking procedure.
Passage of the Water Resources Development Act of 2007, did authorize the construction of seven locks on the Upper Mississippi and Illinois Rivers. It involved implementing small-scale measures and created a major ecosystem restoration program. However, the construction dollars still need watchful eyes to ensure they move through the annual appropriations process.
More information on WCI and to view a video that outlines the need for waterway improvements is available here. http://www.waterwayscouncil.org/