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New Obstacles Are in the Way of River Upgrades

New Obstacles Are in the Way of River Upgrades

Funding for modernization of inland waterways faces an uphill battle.

Upper Mississippi and Illinois River Locks modernization faces new funding hurdles amid enactment of major debt reduction. Congress authorized Upper Mississippi and Illinois River Locks modernization over former President Bush's veto in 2007, but never appropriated any dollars for the effort.

Now, in 2011, Waterways Council Spokeswoman Debra Colbert says the fight to secure funding faces the new obstacle of debt reduction.

"It is a fiscally difficult environment and a politically difficult environment as well," Colbert said. "The government is going to be looking for cuts in as many places as they can find. From our point of view however an investment in inland waterways infrastructure is just about the best return on investment you have going."

That investment in infrastructure would help jobs, the environment, safety, and farm exports, which just got a boost with Hill leaders agreeing on a way to move free trade deals ahead in September.

"When we hear President Obama say he wants to double exports, I think it's within the next four years, it's very frustrating when 60% of the nation's grains are moved on our inland waterways," Colbert said. "You cannot double exports and trade in the way that he prescribes if you don't have the right infrastructure and the efficient infrastructure to make that happen."

Colbert says much of the problem lies on Capitol Hill where a 20-year Inland Waterway Capital Development Plan by private industry and the Army Corps is moving at a crawl.

"Unfortunately we haven't made as much headway as we'd like to just given the political and fiscal environment that we're dealing with, but we continue to press on," Colbert said. "We would hope to have something included in a potential House Transportation and Infrastructure bill that has a maritime title. We continue to talk to those folks about the importance of having a proposal like the Capital Development Plan." 

That is another option rather than including it in another water resources and development act that has now slowed way down in the Senate Environment Committee.

The Capital Plan also calls for raising the tax paid by commercial users of the waterway system, but with objections from politically-strengthened anti-tax Republicans, Colbert says that too may be a tough sell.

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