In letters to House and Senate appropriators, members of the Ag Transportation Working Group asked for continued leadership in support of inland waterway infrastructure, the locks and dams of which are in a precarious state of disrepair, given that most are well beyond their 50-year projected life span.
The letters, signed by 20 agricultural groups, asks appropriators to build upon their strong investment in waterway funding in fiscal 2016, emphasizing that continued momentum is needed during the fiscal 2017 appropriations process.
"From an agricultural users' perspective, having access to a modern and efficient inland waterways transportation system is vital to the efficient production, marketing and shipment of agricultural products in international commerce," the letter states, adding that the U.S. exports nearly one-quarter of the grain it produces.
Last year was a strong, eventful year for waterway funding, with appropriators allocating far above the Administration's deficient requested budget.
This year, members of the agriculture industry are asking lawmakers to continue that momentum by appropriating the full amount supportable by the diesel fuel tax going into the Inland Waterways Trust Fund, which is expected to be $390 million in fiscal 2017.
Additionally, the groups made the case for a minimum funding level of $3.137 billion for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' operations and maintenance (O&M) account, which represents the same funding that was provided in fiscal 2016. The letter notes that the Corps still has significant progress to make on the project backlog.
"In 2014, 73% of the volume of U.S. agricultural exports and 65% of imports were transported via our waterways," the letters notes. "Having access to competitive barge transportation also helps discipline rates for other modes of transportation — an important factor, given current depressed agricultural commodity values. ... We believe these facts help make the case for renewed commitment and investment in our waterways and port infrastructure."