Concerns over the condition of the water transportation
infrastructure were put into perspective recently by Stewart Truelsen, columnist
for the American Farm Bureau Federation’s Focus on Agriculture.
“There’s hardly a school kid who is not familiar with the
American folksong, ‘Fifteen Years on the Erie Canal.’ The song went by a number
of names including ‘Fifteen Miles on the Erie Canal,’” Truelsen wrote.
“If you remember your American history, you’ll recall that
the Erie Canal from Albany to Buffalo, N.Y., was a marvelous engineering feat.
Work commenced in 1817 and the 363-mile canal was finished by 1825, just eight
“Today, it would take the entire eight years just to study
whether the canal should be built and that is no exaggeration.
“The canal cost $7 million to construct. Nowadays, the
rehabilitation of one lock on an inland waterway can cost $50 million.
“Farmers were some of the strongest supporters of building
the Erie Canal while President James Monroe opposed it. The New York legislature
went ahead without federal support and costs were recovered from tolls.
“The Erie Canal is credited with making New York City the
financial capital of America.”
Farmers and agriculture groups have been lobbying
legislators for over a decade to fund water transportation upgrades.
The Water Resources Development Act passed the Senate in May
and is expected to be taken up by the House this fall.
“WRDA will help the United States retain its position as the
world’s largest exporter of agricultural products. Without it, we face the
prospect of falling behind a big competitor like Brazil that is modernizing its
infrastructure,” Truelsen wrote.
Congress also passed a WRDA bill in 2007 and even took the
time to override President George Bush’s veto. However, no funds were
appropriated for those projects and programs.
Many of the barge’s “roadways” were constructed when Model
Ts were the primary means of transportation — along with a few one-horsepower
modes with four legs.
Fifty-seven percent of the nation’s locks and dams on the
inland waterways system have exceeded their economic design life expectancy of
50 years, with some being constructed eight decades ago. By 2020, more than 80
percent of U.S. locks will be functionally obsolete.
The concrete is crumbling, lock sizes are no longer suitable
for today’s needs, and the clock keeps on ticking.
Low bridge, everybody down
Low bridge for we’re coming to a town
And you’ll always know your neighbor
And you’ll always know your pal
If you’ve ever navigated on the Erie Canal