Illinois corn farmers are writing a letter to Santa; what’s on our list?  Today we start with item one … upgraded locks and dams!  Thanks to Thomas Martin, SIU student, for this series focusing on IL Corn’s top priorities!

When I was a little kid we sang a Christmas song that went “over the river and through the woods.” As someone who loves driving and travel in general I especially enjoy the opportunity to observe highway phenomena like bridges, ferries, fords (the crossings – I drive a flex fuel Chevy!), etc. My friends often poke fun at my often ridiculous road trips and escapades in and around the Prairie State. Unfortunately all too often I find my adventures “over the river and through the woods” to be a little gut wrenching as those bridges over the river show their age and the ferries close down service. Not only that but our freight trains are running on old tracks and our highways have taken a beating. Not to mention the major trade issue we face with the crumbling locks and dams.

Don’t believe our infrastructure is falling behind? I personally welcome you to join me in a little trip around Illinois then! Let’s visit river bridges such as Brookport, Florence, Cairo and Chester. Let’s see the difficulty and dependence that communities like Cave-in-Rock, Meyer, Modoc, and Calhoun County have on ferries.  Let’s experience the sorry state of highways on state maintained frontage roads let alone our other highways and rural roads (Union County has some dandy drives).  Unfortunately I can’t as easily show you the sickening display that our river ways are in nor can I fully express the magnitude of such a problem as they are off the “beaten path”.

This past summer I got to travel over the river, through the woods right down to Panama and Colombia (the countries not the towns in Montgomery and Monroe Counties) where I got to observe something that seemed truly foreign to a young whipper snapper like me – infrastructure investment!  You might not have caught the gravity of that – Panama, is investing (putting in improvements for future gains) in their infrastructure. There they are adding in another lane to the Panama Canal. Soon enough travel will be even faster and trade far greater on the canal. Again you might not be picking up on this, soon one will be able to more efficiently travel 40 miles through the Panama Canal meanwhile our barges are stuck in lines with our outdated locks.

My friends, I don’t have to get on my soapbox (though it is a pastime for me) but we need to get serious about American excellence (yeah I’m definitely on the soapbox now). How are we going to make meaningful investment in the mid and long term? I remember as a kid getting to take barge tours through locks on the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers and besides remembering how cool it was (plus the free soda and can cozies) I remember seeing leaks and large cracks on our locks. Is that what we expect to continue on for the future with? Outdated, crumbling infrastructure that is too limited to even allow for competitive trade?

This issue goes beyond our own state, this is a national issue with local, national and global consequences. Our waterways give farmers in Illinois a trade advantage when it comes to market access and the ability to export commodities. Our waterways also offer the most efficient means of transportation in both an economical sense as well as in a “carbon” sense as it requires far less fuel to move a pound of goods via barge than it does using rail or trucks.

We need adequate and modern river transportation, we need strong rail systems and we need sound bridges in order to facilitate transportation not only for agricultural commodities but also for our families as we travel “over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house”.  It should go without saying, this Christmas we need to make sure that we “CC” our congressional representatives on our letters to Santa because we must keep up safe infrastructure here in the Midwest and across our country.

Thomas Martin
Southern Illinois University student
Agricultural Systems Major

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