Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., are teaming up with plans to introduce the American Waterworks Act, a bill to modernize the American ports, locks and dams that usher through millions in agricultural goods daily.
The two Senators have been working with a group of bipartisan legislators to address the shortfalls in U.S. ports and waterway infrastructure, in preparation for the 2014 completion of the Panama Canal expansion, a statement from Alexander said.
Alexander focused on the benefits of the legislation for his home state of Tennessee, specifically on the construction of the Chickamauga Lock. Alexander said the lock would take 100,000 heavy trucks off Interstate 75 while allowing 6.7 million tons of cargo to move through the lock.
River transport issue surfaces again as funds remain tight to repair, construct locks on key American waterways
The Tennessee Senator said improving the lock would improve traffic safety and increase the volume of cargo that the lock can handle.
Additionally, the American Waterworks Act would provide federal funding for maintenance of harbors up to 50 feet deep – increasing the depth allowance by five feet and enabling ships destined for the Panama Canal.
Alexander said the bill would improve the way ports and locks are funded.
"The Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund collects a lot of money, but doesn't spend it well. The Inland Waterways Trust Fund doesn't collect much money, but spends it well. This bill would fix the way our ports and waterways are funded so that we can meet the challenges they face," Alexander said.
The bill would end a requirement that revenues from the Inland Waterways Trust Fund go to the Olmsted Lock construction on the Ohio River. It would also increase the amount of money in the fund by raising user fees.
National Corn Growers Association President Pam Johnson on Friday praised the legislation, explaining that nearly 60% of all grain exports pass through inland waterways annually.
"Locks and dams provide jobs, relieve highway and rail congestion and allow American agriculture to be competitive in the world marketplace," Johnson said.
In September, another group of Senators placed focus on aging river infrastructure. Comments from the six Senators, who represented Illinois, Missouri and Iowa, came on the heels of the September closure of Lock 27 on the Mississippi river. The closure resulted in an estimated $14 million in losses to the economy.
The Senators submitted a letter to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, explaining that the Mississippi River alone carries $12 billion worth or products each year, including one billion bushels of grain.
For a look on the monetary impact a lock and dam closure has on the agriculture industry, also visit the interactive map sponsored by the United Soybean Board and soy checkoff, found here.