Lindsay Mitchell

Feb 06, 2013  |  Today's News

The Economist ran an article over the weekend that highlights much of what we already know about the American waterway transportation system. It was built nearly 100 years ago, has long been outdated and antiquated, and threatens American competitiveness in a global marketplace.

Still, Illinois agriculture must feel refreshed to finally have others taking note.

Here are some of the highlights from the article which you really owe it to yourself to go read in its entirety:

The Industrial Canal Lock in New Orleans connects two of America’s highest-tonnage waterways: the Mississippi River—which handles more than 6,000 ocean vessels, 150,000 barges and 500m tons of cargo each year, as well as much of its grain, corn and soybean production—and the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway, which runs from refinery-rich south-eastern Texas to Florida. Ships pass from one to the other via a lock that was built in 1921, and is 600 usable feet long, or half the length of a modern lock. Its replacement was authorized in 1956. Construction on the replacement was authorized in 1998, and then stalled by lawsuits. The most optimistic predictions of the Army Corps of Engineers, which maintains America’s inland waterways, see the new lock being completed in 2030.

· Some 70% of America’s imports and 75% of its exports go through its ports.

· The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) estimates that underinvestment in America’s inland waterways cost American businesses $33 billion in 2010, and that without significantly increased investment those costs could rise to $49 billion (in constant dollars) by 2020.

· Of the 257 locks in operation in 2009, more than one-tenth were built in the 19th century.

· The average age of federal locks is 60 years, and they were built with an expected lifespan of 50 years.

· By 2020 more than 80% of American locks will be functionally obsolete.

· The extended failure of a single crucial lock could cost agriculture exporters up to $45m and barge operators as much as $163m.