Herald-Whig View

Congress should invest in river upgrades

Posted: Jan. 28, 2018 12:20 am

MISSISSIPPI River upgrades first approved by Congress more than a decade ago could finally become a reality under a proposed $1 trillion infrastructure program to be discussed this week in Washington.

River improvements in this region that would benefit from President Donald Trump's proposal to spend $1 trillion on various infrastructure projects across the nation could include upgrades for five locks on the Mississippi River, including Lock and Dam 21 in Quincy, and two locks on the Illinois River. Flood-control efforts also are under consideration.

A delegation from the area will be in the nation's capital to remind lawmakers about the economic benefits of replacing crumbling infrastructure.

"It would be huge," said Mike Klingner, chairman of the Upper Mississippi, Illinois and Missouri Rivers Association, who will be part of the delegation advocating for a modern, upgraded river system. "We've been asking for this for years.

A $1.95 billion proposal was approved in the water Resources Development Act in 2007 to upgrade five locks on the upper Mississippi River -- at Quincy in Illinois, and at Canton, Saverton, Clarksville and Winfield in Missouri -- and two on the Illinois River, at LaGrange and Peoria.

Regrettably, it was never funded.

Under the plan, the existing 600-foot locks, most dating to the 1930s, would be rehabilitated. Then, as shipping continued, new 1,200-foot locks would be installed.

Once completed, the larger locks would become the primary lock chambers and the 600-foot chambers would be used at high traffic times or when the 1,200-foot chambers close for repairs.

Barge tows now have to stop and uncouple to move through each lock and dam site in two procedures because 600-foot locks cannot accommodate average barge tows that are nearly 1,200 feet in length. New, larger locks would speed shipping and cut down on maintenance problems that often put locks out of service and essentially shut down river traffic.

The economic impact on the upper Mississippi River would be significant.

A total of 30.8 million tons of commodities passed through Lock and Dam 21 in Quincy in 2016, and grain tonnage on the Mississippi is projected to increase another 40 percent over the next 20 years.

But Congress has yet to provide the necessary funding despite the obvious need and the benefit of creating jobs, increasing exports and injecting billions into the U.S. economy.

The mood in Congress may be shifting, however.

Republican U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri is among a bipartisan group of senators urging the administration to set aside funds in the 2019 budget to continue preconstruction engineering and design for lock expansion. U.S. Rep. Sam Graves of Missouri and Rep. Darin LaHood of Illinois also have advocated for local upgrades.

Thanks to the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act of 2016, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is developing a systemwide flood control plan for the Upper Mississippi River.

Now, Congress needs to realize that the cost of expanding locks and protecting against flooding is overshadowed by the costs of inaction.

Clearly, this investment in transportation infrastructure will create jobs now and help pave the way toward long-term economic growth.