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
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
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