By GARRETT HAWKINS
For the Capital Press
Our nation is grappling with aging infrastructure, particularly on inland waterways and ports.
The American Society of Civil Engineers gave the nation's inland waterway system a "D-" grade in its 2013 infrastructure report card. Nearly 50 percent of the nation's 257 locks are classified as functionally obsolete. By 2020, more than 80 percent will be functionally obsolete. On the Upper Mississippi and Illinois River System, 57 percent of the locks were built in the 1930s with a projected 50-year lifespan.
The challenge comes into focus when you consider that more than 60 percent of our grain exports are transported via inland waterways and ultimately, 95 percent of U.S. agricultural exports and imports are transported through U.S. harbors. These activities support more than 400,000 jobs.
Members of Congress have attempted to address our infrastructure problems by rewriting the Water Resources Development Act, something that hasn't been done since 2007. WRDA basically serves as the blueprint for new projects dealing with flood protection, port improvements and upgrades to lock and dam infrastructure.
The American Farm Bureau Federation and 20 other agricultural groups recently wrote U.S. senators to reinforce the importance of investing in our inland waterways and ports. Thanks in part to their efforts, the Senate approved a WRDA bill.
Waterborne transportation is by far our most economical and environmentally friendly transportation mode, but lock malfunctions or other infrastructure-related problems slow movements, increase costs and ultimately delay shipments to consumers.
Meanwhile, countries such as Panama, Argentina, China and Brazil are moving aggressively to improve their infrastructure and therefore their competitiveness in international markets.
Improving and replacing an aging waterway and port system might seem daunting and expensive, but it can be done, one step at a time.
Garrett Hawkins is director of national legislative programs for the Missouri Farm Bureau.