U.S. President Donald Trump promised to create a "first-class" system of roads, bridges and waterways in an speech in Cincinnati on Wednesday.
He proposed using $200 billion in public funds to generate $1 trillion in investment to pay for construction projects.
America’s infrastructure is out of date and falling apart, particularly the internal waterways that are so vital for transporting the country’s goods, he said. "America must have the best, fastest and most reliable infrastructure anywhere in the world," he said.
The U.S. waterways transport 60 percent of the grain meant for export uses inland waterways to reach the Gulf of Mexico. American steel production is entirely dependent on the inland waterways system, and up to 25 percent of the country’s energy cargo, including coal and petroleum, are moved on inland waterways.
According to the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), inland waterways deliver more than 575 million tons of cargo, valued at $229 billion. They also support more than 270,000 jobs and $30.9 billion in economic activity.
According to the ASCE, most of the locks and dams needed to travel the internal waterways are past their 50-year lifespan and nearly 50 percent of voyages suffered delays.
“The infrastructure of America’s inland waterways has been allowed to fall apart, causing delays and preventing the United States from achieving its economic potential,” said Trump.
“Our inland waterway system requires $8.7 billion in maintenance and the maintenance backlog is only getting worse.”
Trump says he will spur growth and investment in infrastructure by dramatically reducing permitting time for projects from 10 years to two years and slashing regulations to speed up the decision making process.
Rural America will receive grants to rebuild crippled bridges, roads and waterways. States and cities will receive grants, and qualified projects of regional and national significance, such as those created under the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act, will receive loans.
The Waterways Council (WCI) has applauded Trump’s promises and his visit to the heartland. “Our country has not seen this kind of leadership on infrastructure since President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1930s New Deal to build our locks and dams, or since the 1950s by President Dwight D. Eisenhower to construct the National Defense and Interstate Highway system,” said the Council in a statement.
“Today, Presidential leadership was demonstrated once again by emphasizing the importance of the inland waterways transportation system and this critical national infrastructure with the backdrop of the river itself.”
However, Engineering News-Record reports that the WCI strongly opposes another administration proposal, levying a new tax on barge companies which was included in the 2018 budget request. The levy would raise more than $1 billion over 10 years, but WCI says that would require about a doubling of the current tax – an onerous prospect.
WCI would like to see a number of Congress-approved projects undertaken including the Inner Harbor Navigation Lock in Louisiana, estimated at $1 billion, three upper Ohio River locks in Pennsylvania, estimated at $2.3 billion, and five locks on the upper Mississippi River, estimated at $2.1 billion.