Where are Rivers and Ports in Obama’s Plan?

Monday, November 15, 2010
One of the two miter gates of the auxiliary chamber close behind the MV Sir Robert at Locks 27 in Granite City, Ill. Photo courtesy USACE

By Cornel Martin, President/CEO, Waterways Council, Inc., from the October MarineNews edition

Waterways Council’s Inc. (WCI) and its more than 200 members were surprised and disappointed with President Obama’s announcement on September 6 that he intends to ask Congress for at least $50 billion in funding for infrastructure but made no mention of waterways infrastructure projects.

The White House press statement said, “The goals of the infrastructure plan include: rebuilding 150,000 miles of roads; constructing and maintaining 4,000 miles of railways, enough to go coast-to-coast; shorter, high speed rail projects; and rehabilitating or reconstructing 150 miles of airport runways, while also installing a next generation air navigation system designed to reduce travel times and delays.”

Roads, rails and runways — why not Rivers?
WCI issued a press statement reacting to the Obama announcement: “While the nation celebrated Labor Day and all that the workforce has done to make America great, the waterways transportation industry was left disappointed and puzzled about why the President’s announcement earlier this week to fund at least $50 billion in infrastructure projects over the long term does not include any waterways or port projects. Our inland waterways not only support people who work on our rivers, but workers in our agricultural community and the many industries who rely on our waterways for affordable transportation of their goods, both domestically and for world markets. To not include and dismiss our nation’s most environmentally sound, energy efficient and congestion-relieving mode of transportation, when its lock and dam infrastructure consistently earns a ‘D’ grade, is unreasonable and unacceptable.

“For all these reasons and more, the inland waterways industry remains a solution for the future and its infrastructure is critical to maintain a modern and efficient system of transportation for cargoes like grain, petroleum, corn, coal, steel, and aggregates that the United States and the world rely upon. In support of our nation’s labor force, our nation’s waterways have helped to make our country great. It is time to stop dismissing waterways transportation infrastructure and instead work together to keep America moving.”

Given the climate in Congress and the reluctance to increase the deficit, this plan may go nowhere in the end, but the absence of waterways infrastructure projects as critical to receive funding is puzzling, discouraging and more than frustrating.

Transportation on our nation’s rivers is simply the most energy efficient, congestion-relieving environmentally green way to move our critical commodities for domestic consumption and export. One jumbo barge is equal to 70 trucks on our already over-crowed highways. That means 1,050 trucks on your commute home are equal to just one typical barge movement on our waterways.

Our nation became prosperous in large part because of the existence of the rivers to budding ports and cities. Commerce on those waterway routes allows our agriculture industry to feed the world, our citizens to turn the lights on each day and heat their homes, our pharmaceutical companies to develop life-saving medicines from chemical shipments, and our icy roads in winter to receive salt so that cars and school buses can move safely. To not include locks and dams in infrastructure spending is short-sighted to say the least.

Leaving the waterways out of any equation is simply bad for America.    MN

Cornel Martin is President and CEO of Waterways Council, Inc. (WCI), and can be reached at cmartin@vesselalliance.com or 703-373-2261. WCI seeks to educate decision-makers, the news media and the general public about the importance of our nation’s inland waterways and the need to sustain and increase their reliability.

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