Next week, the Illinois Corn Growers Association and the Illinois Corn Marketing Board will meet in Metropolis, IL where visiting the Olmstead Lock and Dam is convenient. The Olmstead Lock was designed to replace one lock of many along the Illinois, Mississippi, and Ohio River systems that are broken down and in need of repair. But years of work and millions of dollars later, the Olmstead Lock still isn’t operational and what work has been done is already in need of repair before the lock has even been used! Does this interest you? Read on …
In October, President Barack Obama said “We’ve lost our ambition, our imagination and our willingness to do the things that built the Golden Gate Bridge and Hoover Dam and unleashed all the potential in this country.”
Throughout our nation’s history, our country has never lacked willingness to unleash its vast potential, but rather seems to have lost its willpower to bolster the foundations that made us who we are in the world, chief among them our nation’s transportation infrastructure. And the locks and dams on our nation’s rivers, many of the most important of which are in the Upper Mississippi River Basin, are critically important for creating jobs and expanding exports.
It took from 1933 to 1937 to build the Golden Gate Bridge. Construction on the Hoover Dam began in 1930, and the last concrete was poured in 1935, at a cost of $49 million. But today, lock and dam projects costs have soared out of control. For example, Olmsted Locks and Dam on the Ohio River was initially estimated to cost $775 million but now has ballooned to more than $2.1 billion. This additional cost is passed on to all consumers from food to electricity to oil prices.
Some of the oldest locks and dams on the inland system are in the Upper Mississippi River Basin. Age deterioration, inefficient federal infrastructure funding and more than $400 million in backlogged critical maintenance are pushing that part of the waterways system toward catastrophe.
The US’s rivers and its infrastructure serve as an important partner to its industry, as the state’s steel, ore, coal, chemicals and aggregate materials are transported on the rivers to their destination within the state, throughout the United States and abroad for export. Its rivers also provide other benefits such as stable pools of water behind the dams that offer drinking water, irrigation and vast recreation opportunities.
The state’s and nation’s agricultural sector — the only sector of the U.S. economy that consistently posts a positive trade balance — simply could not compete and sell its products worldwide if not for the presence of the waterways that allow more than 60 percent of grain products to be transported to export ports in the most competitive way.
And we can’t discount the other commodities that move on the waterways: 20 percent of the coal that is used to power our nation’s electricity (much of it from Pennsylvania coal mines) and 22 percent of our petroleum products. Moving these products on the waterways keep prices low for consumers and the other modes, like rail and truck, competitive.
This is no more important than today in tough economic conditions. But these commodities and the shippers who grow and produce them are in danger of losing their competitive edge unless we give needed focus on and proper funding for the lock and dam infrastructure that allows their transport.
In this country, with unemployment stubbornly holding steady at 9 percent and the number even higher in the construction industry, jobs are another commodity that we cannot afford not to invest in.
Building locks and dams on the waterways system will create and sustain American, family-wage jobs in Pennsylvania. There is a road map for modernizing our lock and dam system, growing our exports, keeping the positive balance of trade in the agriculture industry and adding jobs to the U.S. economy known as the Inland Waterways Capital Development Plan or CDP.
The CDP is a consensus-based plan developed by the navigation industry and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The idea is to nationally prioritize navigation projects through objective criteria such as economic benefit and project condition; efficiently fund and complete 25 navigation projects in 20 years versus just six projects under the current broken model; better utilize taxpayer dollars and complete projects by American workers on time and on budget; seek standardization and design centers of expertise; and enable exports to increase.