BLOOMINGTON, Ill. — Agriculture organizations have been advocating for the modernization of the waterway transportation system for decades and the recent passage of the new infrastructure bill will finally address many of those concerns.
“With the package of the new Phase 1 infrastructure package that was passed and signed by the president, finally we are able to push the ball over the hump where specifically there’s $2.5 billion worth of funding for our inland waterway transportation system,” said Jim Tarmann, Illinois Corn Growers Association managing director.
“The inland waterway system is very big and there are many projects that need funding and now we’re focusing on making sure that our targeted projects that we’ve been advocating for make it in the queue and part of the Corps of Engineers’ work plan,” said Tarmann, who manages waterway transportation issues for IL Corn.
“I try not to climb too high on my bucket because there’s still another checkmark in trying to make sure. We finally got approval for funding for inland waterways. There are a lot of projects that need funding, but we’re in the queue and we have to work with our legislators to make sure that we’re finally not overlooked.”
River transportation is vital for farmers and the ag economy and Tarmann refers to the inland waterways as the nation’s third coast.
“That is our connection with the breadbasket of the United States to the rest of the world and we have proven in agriculture that we can grow and be the most efficient in producing our crops. We’re just starting to lose our comparative advantage due to the reliability and lack of investment in our system. It’s tremendously important to be able to compete with the investments that we’re seeing throughout the world,” he said.
Construction plans include enlarging selected locks from 600 feet to 1,200 feet to accommodate the typical length of a group of barges in tow.
“The 1,200-foot locks are our goal. In the 2007 Water Resources Development Act we were successful in getting authorization for seven new locks, five on the Mississippi River — locks 20 through 25 — and two on the Illinois River which is the Peoria and LaGrange. All of those include a new 1,200-foot lock right next to the existing 600-foot lock that’s there. We’re trying to increase capacity,” Tarmann said.
“Last year the Corps of Engineers did a huge rehab on the locks on the Illinois River, but that was just trying to bring them up to status of where they originally were to improve reliability. They got that accomplished and completed that on time within budget which is something the Corps has struggled with through the years.
“We feel if we’re advocating for trade, which our members have told us through our survey work that if we’re going to increase exports you have to have the capacity to move that to continue to keep our competitive advantage throughout the world.”
Many of the projects are already in the engineering phase.
“I would say within the Corps they know exactly what they want to do if they get the funding. They’re dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s and I would say if we get the appropriate funding you could see a shovel in the ground on the first lock a year from now,” Tarmann said.