DROUGHT BRINGS FOCUS TO INLAND INFRASTRUCTURE
By DAISY R. KHALIFA, Special Correspondent
Those fears were allayed, at least
temporarily, when the U.S. Army
Corps of Engineers reported that
work that began in December to
remove river-bottom rocks and
deepen the commercial channel
between St. Louis and Cairo, Ill.,
and recent rains and water releases
from the Army Corps’ Carlyle Lake
in Illinois, had improved the forecast for the Middle Mississippi
River — at least through January.
The crisis has drawn attention to
the Army Corps of Engineers and its
role in waterway maintenance. The
The Mississippi River situation also has drawn some
serious attention to America’s river system as a whole,
and its importance to the nation’s economic well being.
Still, as many in the waterborne trades agree, the importance of investing in maritime infrastructure, particularly
the nation’s inland rivers, is not well understood.
President Barack Obama’s budget request for fiscal
2013 year included a proposed $476 billion investment
in transportation infrastructure over six years. And
while the implications for improvements to roads and
the development of high-speed rail figured prominently
in the budget discussion that followed, the condition of
the nation’s vital inland waterways, also a component of
the package, received relatively scant attention.
Indeed, the notion of the United States as a “
maritime nation” and its economic reliance on its river system for the movement and export of goods tends to be
The Army Corps of Engineers, through its Civil Works Program, is
responsible for ensuring the safe movement of vessels by constructing and maintaining the nation’s navigation channels, harbors,
locks and dams, and by regulating water levels on inland waterways.
■ Stakeholders from industry and navigation trade groups say
they believe funding falls far short when it comes to the health,
rehabilitation and continued development of the inland rivers.
■ The Inland Marine Transportation System Capital Investment
Team delivered a report to Congress that provided a capital
investment strategy and a list of long-term capital needs for the
inland navigation system.
■ The Army Corps has identified more than 100 projects that require,
or could require, capital investments in the next 20 years.
One of the worst droughts in decades along the Mississippi River triggered a mounting panic early in the new year among shippers
and navigation experts who were faced with considering the repercussions of a halt to the robust barge traffic along the river.
Tows and barges carry millions of dollars of cargo,
including grain, coal and other commodities, along
the river daily from the Gulf of Mexico through the
central United States. But historically low water levels
on the Mississippi, which already had slowed shipping
in some sections because of narrow or shallow channels, threatened to stop commercial traffic entirely in
Two industry groups, the American Waterways
Operators and the Waterways Council Inc., said that
such a shutdown could affect more than 8,000 jobs, cost
$54 million in wages and benefits, and halt the movement of 7. 2 million tons of commodities valued at $2.8
billion, according to a Jan. 2 report from Reuters.