Ports & Terminals

Infrastructure bill will fund $2.2 billion in inland waterway projects

On January 19th, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released its “spend plans” outlining the specific inland waterways projects that were allocated funding from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (Infrastructure Package) totaling $2.22 billion.

Debra Calhoun, senior vice president, Waterways Council Inc, based in Washington, D.C. told AJOT: “We are gratified to see a once in a generation funding opportunity from the Infrastructure Bill to fund a number of important lock and dam projects. Waterways Council has brought a coalition together of farmers, towboat and barge operators and conservationists to accelerate the process of replacement and upgrades on the nation’s inland waterways.”

Unfortunately, political resistance to infrastructure spending in general and on the inland waterways in particular has left shippers struggling to deal with an antiquated lock and dam system that was originally built under the administration of Franklin Roosevelt in the 1930s and 1940s.

There are seven locks and dams slated for upgrades on the Upper Mississippi river and Illinois waterway that also included environmental improvements for wetlands and habitat for wildlife. These projects have been authorized under the Navigation & Ecosystem Sustainability Program (NESP).

The Infrastructure Bill has provided funding for Lock 25 on the Upper Mississippi allowing construction to begin 15 years after authorization. Six more locks and dams still need to be funded.

The Lock 25 upgrade will fund the construction of a 1200-foot lock chamber to be built alongside of a 600-foot lock chamber and also authorized a number of environmental and habitat improvements.

Made operational on May 18, 1939, and located in Winfield, Missouri, Lock and Dam 25 is the third southern-most dam in the system on the Upper Mississippi River.

The impact of the NESP will benefit the states of Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Missouri and include agricultural exporters, tug and barge operators and provide increased conservation measures including better anti-flood protections for communities due to wetlands augmentation.

Calhoun said the Waterways Council was formed because the Inland Waterways Trust Fund was not matched by federal funding.

The lack of federal match funding caused the “degradation of the system.”

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers cited the Impacts of unscheduled shutdowns at Lock & Dam 25: “An outage at L&D 25 would cost nearly $1.6 billion and increase the number of truck traffic trips by more than 500,000 annually.”

To reduce the shortfall in infrastructure funding, the gas tax on towboat fuel was raised from 20 cents per gallon to 29 cents per gallon in 2015 with the federal match originally placed at 50%.

The federal spending share of the fund was subsequently raised to 65% in 2020.

One result of delays in fully funding lock and dam upgrades could be seen when Calhoun recently took a group to visit the Kentucky Lock on the Tennessee River near Paducah, Kentucky:

“The current lock chamber is 600 feet long so that a towboat pushing 15 barges had to break up the barges to push 9 barges through the lock first and then go back and push through the remaining six barges. The process generally takes four and a half hours. With the upgrade, a second 1,200-foot-long chamber will be built so that the full tow of all barges can be pushed through the lock at the same time and the process will take 45 minutes.”

A U.S. Army Corps of Engineers fact sheet noted the cost of not maintaining the Kentucky Lock whose “construction started in 1938 and Kentucky Lock was put into permanent operation in September 1944.” A new lock is required “because of the bottle-neck the small chamber, number of users, and double lockages create. In recent years, the average delay per tow has ranged from 8 to 10 hours to use the existing chamber.”

The new lock will be 1200’ long and 110’ wide: “This will take wait times in excess of 10 hours to 0 hours.”

Locks To Be Funded

Specifically, the January 19th spend plans announced by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will fund the following inland navigation construction projects at $2.22 billion, according to Waterways Council Inc:

  • Kentucky Lock (Tennessee River): $465.49 million (funded to completion)
  • Montgomery Lock (Ohio River): $857.71 million (funded to completion)
  • Lock and Dam 25 (Upper Mississippi River) (Navigation & Ecosystem Sustainability Program (NESP): $732 million (funded to completion)
  • Three Rivers (Arkansas River): $109.15 million (spend plan summary lists this as funded to completion, but the project is authorized for $184.39 million)
  • T.J. O’Brien Lock and Dam (Illinois Waterway), (Major Rehabilitation): $52.52 million (funded to completion)

Additionally, as part of NESP’s ecosystem restoration component, a fish passage at Lock 22 is funded at $97.10 million to complete the design and to initiate construction.

Waterways Council Inc president Tracy Zea noted, “release of inland waterways infrastructure funds will not only advance the inland waterways construction portfolio but also create thousands of skilled jobs for America’s building trades, make American farmers more competitive, and promote energy security.”

Stas Margaronis
Stas Margaronis


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