Roads, rails and runways–why not Ports and Rivers?

Roads, rails and runways — why not Ports and Rivers?

The membership of the Tennessee River Valley Association and Tennessee-Cumberland Waterways Council was surprised and disappointed with President Obama’s recent announcement that he intends to ask Congress for at least $50 billion in funding for infrastructure but made no mention of critical waterways infrastructure projects that include the Chickamauga Lock Replacement and the Kentucky Lock Addition on the Tennessee River.

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.”

The Obama Administration chose September 6, 2010 for the initial release of its ambitious plan. While our 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 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.

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, dams and ports in infrastructure spending is short-sighted to say the least.

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 transports an amount of cargo that would require 70 trucks on already over-crowed highways. That means just one typical barge movement on our waterways is equal to 1,050 trailer trucks loads resulting in significant savings in highway maintenance costs.

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 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 results of the recent mid-term elections, the current climate in Congress and the reluctance to increase the deficit, this plan may go nowhere in the end, but the absence of proposed funding for critical waterways infrastructure projects is puzzling, discouraging and more than frustrating.

Leaving ports and waterways out of any equation is simply bad for America.