Infrastructure Bill Would Upgrade Aging US Waterways System

It's a routine sight on the Illinois River: towboats slowly pushing barges carrying everything from salt and petroleum to corn and soybeans, the top commodities produced in the state."This is the backbone of our economy," said Tom Heinold, chief of the operations division for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Rock Island District. "Here in the upper Midwest, we feed the world from right here."Heinold oversees Corps of Engineers facilities along the Illinois River, including the Starved Rock Lock and Dam near Utica. The National Waterways Foundation says the statewide system moves more than 83 million tons of freight annually, worth more than $13 billion to the U.S. economy.Using barges to transport goods on rivers is not only efficient but also environmentally friendly, reducing the need to use petroleum-guzzling trucks, Heinold said."We can take 1,000 tractor-trailer trucks' worth of commodities and put them on a single 15-ton barge tow," he told VOA. "If it's big, bulk, it's more efficient to go on the rivers. So we see the benefits of that, that cost savings over roads and rails."Showing their ageBut the locks, which rise and fall to allow barges to navigate a consistent depth of the river, were built nearly a century ago and are showing their age."It is literally, in places, crumbling," Heinold said while peering from a balcony overlooking the lock and dam. "You can see the concrete right in front of you, deteriorating. On the vertical walls, you can see the corner armor rusting. Some of it is bent.""They were built with a 50-year design life," explained Rodney Weinzierl, a farmer in central Illinois, where the waterways are key to getting crops to foreign buyers. Weinzierl serves as executive director of the Illinois Corn Growers Association, which advocates for improving the country's inland waterway system."Exports are very important to Illinois and the U.S., and infrastructure is what keeps us competitive with foreign competition," Weinzierl said. But since most taxpayers rarely engage with this part of the country's infrastructure, he said, the waterways often get overlooked."The public just never really sees it," he told VOA. "It's much lower on the list of awareness of infrastructure that's really helped make our nation what it is today."FILE - These are the Emsworth Locks and Dam on the Ohio River at Emsworth, Pa., April 9, 2021. They are 70 years old and in need of repair.Weinzierl says it's crucial to improve ...
5 Jun 2021 English United States News

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