Happy New Year. I threw away my 2013 calendar and hung up the new one. There is a lot to get done in the New Year.
But, today I want to talk about one specific project. We need to modernize our water transportation system. Our locks and dams on the Upper Mississippi are old and inefficient. Our harbors need to be dredged and made ready to accommodate new ships that can carry 2 or 3 times as much cargo as today’s vessels. The Panama Canal is being widened and deepened to accommodate new, bigger ships.
Two-thirds of the ships going through the Panama Canal are U.S. ships. The future is bigger ships and our harbors need to be able to handle them. Today, only a handful of our ports can do that.
The last time I was back on the farm, I landed in Moline, Illinois – right on the Mississippi River.
The corn and soy beans that I grew this year were shipped down the Illinois River and then down the Mississippi. The grain goes through the locks all the way down to the Gulf of Mexico and, from there, to countries all over the world. We need to bring our waterway system up-to-date. The Army Corps of Engineers is responsible for 12,000 miles of inland waterways plus 900 ports.
I cannot overstate the importance of this project. Agriculture and our nation’s economy depend on our water system. More than half of our crops exported are shipped through the Gulf.
The House and Senate both have strong bipartisan support for the water system modernization that I’m talking about. The challenge will be to get the money appropriated to do the job. The funding of the project will be a combination of federal funds and state matching funds. Also, an increase in barge diesel fuel tax will be necessary. That is the same as our gas tax to build and repair our roads and bridges.
In this New Year, keep the pressure on the Congress to get this done.