barges carrying grain down river Ed Metz/Hemera/Thinkstock
River barge tows

Waterway infrastructure needs outlined in letter to congressional appropriators

Most locks and dams have surpassed design life span of 50 years.

A total of 22 agricultural producer and agribusiness organizations that participate in the Agricultural Transportation Working Group sent a letter to House and Senate appropriators April 5 asking for continued funding support in fiscal 2018 to rebuild the nation's declining inland waterway infrastructure.

"While the U.S. transportation infrastructure system long has provided U.S. agricultural producers and agribusinesses with a strong comparative advantage against foreign competitors, our waterways infrastructure system is falling behind," stated the letter, which was signed by groups representing producers, grain handlers, millers, processors and exporters, feed manufacturers and agribusinesses. "Most locks and dams on the U.S. inland waterways system have surpassed their design life span of 50 years. Further, navigation channels at U.S. ports need to be deepened to accommodate larger vessels transiting through recently reopened and expanded Panama Canal."

The letter pointed out that 72% of U.S. agricultural export volume – totaling 142 million metric tons and valued at $128 billion – in 2015 was transported to U.S. export ports via waterborne commerce. In fact, it said the U.S. exports one-quarter of the grain it produces, with 59% of this grain moving on the Mississippi River, Texas and east Gulf ports and another 27% moving through the Pacific Northwest ports.

“U.S. inland waterways provide a low-cost, economically sustainable and environmentally friendly way to move grain and other agricultural products while supporting more than 540,000 jobs. Every $1 billion in agricultural exports shipped through U.S. ports creates 15,000 jobs,” the letter stated. “We believe these facts more than make the case for renewed commitment and investment in our waterways and port infrastructure.”

The groups listed specific action items they'd like appropriators take regarding U.S. waterways, including requests to:

  • Appropriate the full amount supportable by the barge diesel fuel tax going into the Inland Waterways Trust Fund.
  • Support, at a minimum, a funding level of $3.173 billion for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers operations and maintenance (O&M) budget, which helps support ongoing inland and coastal navigation activities.
  • Ensure that spending targets for the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund codified in the Water Resources Reform & Development Act of 2014 are met to cover O&M activities, such as harbor dredging, which would amount to approximately $1.33 billion.

"Our inland waterways and ports are true economic difference-makers that support American workers and help U.S. products reach the 95% of consumers who live outside our borders," the letter concluded. "We appreciate your consideration of these appropriations requests and thank you for your time and work on these critical infrastructure needs."

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