ANKENY, Iowa – The corn and soybeans grown in Iowa leave the state by either rail, truck or barge, but it’s that last mode of transportation, and the infrastructure that supports it, that’s been the focus of federal legislators working on the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA) conference committee. Last week, House and Senate conferees produced a conference report; the first real shot at a final WRRDA bill since the last one passed in 2007.
Grains grown in Iowa and loaded onto barges on the Mississippi River reach ports in southern Louisiana after a 13-day trip, but the locks and dams those crops have to pass through are crumbling. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, much of the total inland waterways system has not been updated since the ’50s, with an average 52 service interruptions each day throughout the system.
Soy Transportation Coalition Executive Director Mike Steenhoek says the conference report is a positive one, and appears to address that problem directly.
“There is a strong indication that this WRRDA bill will provide some additional funding for the inland waterways system,” Steenhoek says. “It’s anticipated that more money generated by what’s call the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund will be used for harbor maintenance, for dredging, for channel widening activities, which is very favorable, and that’s something that agricultural interests and other freight interests have been aggressively promoting.”
Currently only about half of the $1.8 billion collected annually through the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund is actually used for intended projects. The WRRDA conference report lays out a timeline to redirect all harbor maintenance funds into projects by 2025.
Steenhoek says the report also includes language that examines alternative financing, which he says is a welcome change from annual appropriations.
“One of the liabilities of our approach for maintaining and financing these lock-and-dam projects is that we’re trying to do these multi-year, expensive projects via short-term, unpredictable legislative acitivty,” explains Steenhoek. “That really is a recipe for cost overruns. So, this language looking at alternative financing is a welcome discussion to have, and we look forward to engaging in it.”
ACSE also applauded the passage of the WRRDA conference report last week.