Farm groups that have worked for years to bring attention to the state of inland waterways showered praise on President Donald Trump’s speech in Cincinnati, Ohio, on Wednesday in which the president talked specifically about upgrading locks and dams.
“These critical corridors of commerce depend on a dilapidated system of locks and dams that is more than half a century old, and their condition — is in very, very bad shape. It continues to decay,” Trump said.
The centerpiece of Trump’s infrastructure plan is $200 billion in tax breaks for businesses that the Trump administration expects would leverage $1 trillion in infrastructure projects around the country. Trump said the nation’s infrastructure is crumbling and a disaster in need of serious upgrade.
“Countless American industries, businesses and jobs depend on rivers, runways, roads and rails that are in dire and even desperate condition,” the president said. And millions of American families rely on their water on pipes and pumps that are on the verge of total failure.”
The president said the U.S. will fix it and create the first-class infrastructure that the country deserves. Trump is set to meet with governors and mayors on Thursday at the White House to further discuss infrastructure. “It is time to recapture our legacy as a nation of builders — and to create new lanes of travel, commerce and discovery that will take us into the future,” Trump said.
The president’s infrastructure push comes as his agenda is stalling in Congress. Washington is largely gripped with the testimony of senior White House national security officials about Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election and the president’s decisions about the Russia investigation after taking office. Former FBI Director James Comey was testifying on Thursday.
Those political controversies were not a focus Wednesday for farm groups who have pushed for a long time in Washington to upgrade aging locks and dams. Justin Durdan, president of the Illinois Corn Growers Association, said Trump elevated the issue of inland waterways with one speech.
“He is the first president in quite some time to acknowledge the need to upgrade our inland waterways infrastructure,” Durdan said. “Those of us in agriculture that rely on our rivers to move goods know that without the necessary improvements to these systems, we’d be at a distinct disadvantage as a nation. Each day that passes with the system in decline represents a loss in our competitive advantage.”
In May, the White House budget plan called for changing the Inland Waterways Trust Fund to increase fees paid by commercial navigation users of the waterways. The federal government would lower the 50% match for capital costs on locks and dams. Right now, the inland waterway system requires $8.7 billion in maintenance and the maintenance backlog is only getting worse, the White House stated.
The National Corn Growers Association stated that nearly three-quarters of U.S. grain exports are transported to port through the U.S. river system, but locks and dams have outlived their 50-year lifespans.
“Farmers rely on our national infrastructure every day to get our products to market quickly, safely, and efficiently. Waterways, roads, and bridges are central to farmers’ efforts to feed and fuel the world, and we must invest in all of them,” said Ken Hartman, chair of the NCGA market access team and a farmer from Waterloo, Illinois.
The Waterways Council Inc. said in a statement that the president was demonstrating leadership by highlighting the importance of inland waterways in Cincinnati.
“We applaud the president for committing his vast building experience to modernizing the inland waterways, and establishing a goal of completing projects on-time, on-budget, and removing regulatory impediments,” the Waterways Council stated.
The White House sent out a fact sheet noting that inland waterways delivered more than 575 million tons of cargo, valued at $229 billion, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers. Further, American steel production is entirely dependent on the inland waterways system, the White House stated.
According to the ASCE, most of the locks and dams needed to travel the internal waterways are past their 50-year lifespan and nearly 50% of voyages suffered delays.
Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com
Follow him on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN