Hundreds of locks and dams along the United States’ waterway system have exceeded their lifespans, resulting in delays, higher costs, and reduced transportation efficiency. Lawmakers and farm groups urge the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to prioritize funding for the construction of the Navigation and Ecosystem Sustainability Program on the Upper Mississippi River System, reportedly funded by $ 2.5 billion for inland waterways as part of the recently approved infrastructure investment and jobs. Act.
Bobby Frederick, vice president of legislative affairs and public policy at the National Grain and Feed Association, explains that the recently enacted bipartisan infrastructure bill offers a vision to rapidly improve inland waterways with a 60-day clock that ends Jan. 14 to research recommendations for the corps on where to start.
The IIJA prudently plans an investment of $ 2.5 billion for the construction of inland waterways projects and specifies that priority should be given to projects included in the capital investment strategy for inland and intra-waterways. coastal waters of 2020. The CIS is prioritizing thirteen new start-up construction projects, the majority of which are the new 1,200-foot NESP locks. This includes Lock 25 (Level A), LaGrange Lock (Level A), and Lock 24 (Level B) on the upper Mississippi River system. These projects were reviewed through collaboration between the Corps and the Inland Waterways Users Council.
Originally authorized in the Water Resources Development Act of 2007, the NESP would modernize and expand seven obsolete locks at the most congested lock locations along the Upper Mississippi and Illinois rivers and fund over $ 1 billion for restoration. ecosystems. NESP will create nearly 50 million person-hours of living wage construction jobs. A 2019 study released by the USDA showed that rebuilding NESP locks would inject an additional $ 72 billion into the country’s GDP.
In the letter from the lawmakers, they highlight the broader benefits that NESP upgrades would generate. “The regional and national economic benefits of NESP are significant, which is why the project was included in the twenty-year investment strategy for inland and intra-coastal waterways of December 2020 developed by the Corps and the Users’ Council. of inland waterways, ”the letter reads. “Following CIS 2020, including the construction of the NESP, will bring immediate financial and environmental benefits throughout the system that spill over into the economy. “
In a letter from the Agricultural Transport Task Force, the groups explain that the existing locks on the UMRS were built in the 1930s with 600-foot chambers to accommodate standard vessels used for trade during that time. However, today’s tugs can push a 1,200-foot-long tow of 15 barges that must “double-lock” causing significant and costly delays.
“These delays have a negative impact on the agricultural value chain, as UMRS is a vital artery for the transport of many goods, including corn, soybeans and fertilizers,” they write.
Both letters highlight strong support for construction among the agricultural industries and refer to the million dollars that the Soy Transportation Coalition and state soybean affiliates have raised for the Lock & Dam 25 project. The American Soybean Association, along with STC, the Waterways Council, the National Grain and Feed Association and others, worked to collect signatures for the Congressional letter and led efforts to develop the coalition letter urging swift action to launch the NESP.
Related: Farm Groups Offer Funding for Renovation of Locks and Dams
The shipping industry voluntarily sought and obtained a 45% increase in its fees for the use of commercial diesel several years ago, in part to help advance the construction of the NCCP.
The PNES responds to the needs of improving navigation infrastructure and ecosystem restoration in an integrated and versatile program. Restoration of the NESP ecosystem would benefit riverine and riparian habitats throughout the upper Mississippi river system. Specifically, NESP will modify dam operations to restore natural variability in river levels, backwaters and island habitats, and reconnection of side channels, among other projects. Collectively, these restoration activities will help ensure that birds, fish and other wildlife continue to thrive in their natural habitats within and along the UMRS.
Upgrading aging inland waterway systems is key to increasing barge capacity to ship larger loads of US soybeans and other grains to international customers.
“The realization of these new 1,200-foot locks within the framework of the NESP is all the more important as a towing of 15 barges carries the same quantity of dry goods as 216 wagons and 1,050 trucks, and the comparison is even higher. great for liquid goods. Modernizing these obsolete locks will help discipline rail rates, reduce wear and tear on American roads and bridges, and make American agriculture more competitive, ”the Farm Groups write.
Work remains to ensure that funding is specifically allocated to a number of lock and dam projects – in particular Lock and Dam # 25, LaGrange Lock and Dam and Lock and dam n ° 24 – which have been waiting for years for the necessary investments, explains Mike Steenhoek. , executive director of STC.
“The bipartisan group of senators and deputies clearly understand that it is time to finally move these projects forward,” he adds. “This is arguably the most opportune time in many years to make significant improvements to this system. We hope that our national leaders truly seize this opportunity. ”
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