Don’t Forget the Waterways in Infrastructure Funding

Charleston Gazette Mail
2 June 2016
By Kenny Kemp

So you think the nation’s highways are congested and in disrepair now, just think how bad they’d be without a fully functioning inland waterways system. Inland waterways are the nation’s other highway system, the one you don’t think about unless you work for a towboat company.

But Charleston area residents see — without usually noticing — one of those major inland waterways every time they drive alongside or across the Great Kanawha River. Those towboats pushing barges loaded with coal (what’s left of them, anyway) and those tanker barges that are bringing the gasoline you’ll eventually fill up your SUV with are using the nation’s other infrastructure. Without the locks and dams and other facilities that allow those tows, there would be hundreds of thousands more trucks on the highways and thousands more train cars along the rails — and the strain to keep that infrastructure in good working order would be even more costly.

The U.S. Congress recently passed and President Obama signed into law a $305 billion, five-year highway funding bill. That bill took years of wrangling before Congress could come to an agreement.

But it’s not just highways that need transportation funding. The nation’s inland waterways need regular and reliable funding too. But last week, an Energy & Water Development Appropriations bill to fund programs of the Army Corps of Engineers failed on the U.S. House floor after an amendment related to federal contractor discrimination against gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender people was offered and then blocked.

The Obama administration’s pet political agendas aside, a robust waterway system improves transportation and safety for everyone, as barge transportation is dramatically safer than freight transportation by highway, hazardous materials spill rates are dramatically lower and barge tows generate 1,000 times less emissions to move the same amount of freight than trucks.

Yet many of the inland waterways — the Kanawha River and its recent improvements excepted — rely on aging, 1930s-era locks and dams that are undersized and unreliable for today, costing the nation’s exporters and importers valuable time and money and threatening the safe and economical transportation of bulk goods.

More so possibly than even highways, proper maintenance, repair and improvement of the nation’s inland waterways system benefits everyone. -

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