Bipartisan support for inland waterways vital to Illinois economy

We hear a lot about the discord in Congress, but in October the House of Representatives passed the Water Resources Reform & Development Act with an overwhelming 417-3 vote. Earlier this year Senator Durbin and Senator Kirk both supported similar legislation.

When we think of trans­portation infrastructure most of us think of roads that crisscross our state and country. We don’t understand the ­economic impact and importance of our inland waterway system. Illinois’ portion of these navigable waterways is roughly 1,118 miles, only a ­portion of the 25,000 miles of rivers and canals that move more than 612 million tons of cargo totaling more than $222 billion in value across the nation.

Nearly one-third of the grain ­produced in Illinois is sent for export to the Port of New Orleans. According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, waterways in Illinois support almost 50,000 jobs and move almost $140 billion in goods and commodities through Illinois.

Locks and dams on these rivers are vital to this transportation, but some of these facilities were constructed in the 1930s and many are operating well beyond their ideal lifespan. The result is a backlog of projects that costs $8 billion and is growing quickly as deterioration exceeds the rate of repair and new construction. Broken locks delayed the movement of goods and caused unscheduled delays in 90 percent of the locks in 2009. In 2011, delays as a result of malfunctioning locks cost industry $33 billion.