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Prepared Floor Remarks, U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley: "On the Importance of Inland Waterway Infrastructure"

July 13, 2021

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Prepared Floor Remarks by U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa

On the Importance of Inland Waterway Infrastructure

Tuesday, July 13, 2021



Every state of the nation has many infrastructure needs. In Iowa, we rely on our roads, bridges, air and freight to move our goods and people throughout Iowa, the country and the world. I am encouraged that a bipartisan framework has been agreed to for moving forward on an infrastructure bill. I will be interested in seeing more details about the policy and the ways to pay for the bill as this process moves forward.


Today, I would like to discuss one aspect of infrastructure, our inland waterways. I ask my colleagues to take this important mode of transportation into account as they work on legislation. I have also sent this request in a letter to both the Senate Environment and Public Works and Appropriations Committees.


The inland and intercoastal waterways and our ports are vital to the United States, serving 41 states throughout the nation. Shippers and consumers depend on the ability to move around 630 million tons of cargo each year, valued at $232 billion, on these waterways. In turn, the inland waterway system supports well over half a million jobs.


Our nation’s inland waterway system also provides a safe, cost effective, fuel efficient and environmentally friendly way to move our bulk products. This translates into more than $12 billion annually in transportation savings to the American economy. Furthermore, one gallon of fuel allows one ton of cargo to be shipped 647 miles by barge, as compared to 477 miles by rail and 145 miles by truck. In addition, inland waterway transport generates far fewer emissions of hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide and nitrous oxide than rail or truck per-million-ton-miles. As for safety, there are 21.9 rail fatalities and 79.3 truck fatalities for every one fatality on the waterways system. By moving goods on the inland waterways we are helping to relieve congestion on roadways and adding to the nation’s economic prosperity.


Moving goods on inland waterways is the most efficient transportation mode. A typical inland barge has a capacity 15 times greater than one rail car and 60 times greater than one semi-trailer truck. One, 15-barge tow can move the equivalent of 216 rail cars pulled by six locomotives or 1,050 semi-trailer trucks. If the cargo transported on the inland waterways each year had to be moved by another mode, it would take an additional 16 percent more tonnage on the railroad system and 49 million truck trips annually to carry the load.


U.S. trade policy and its effects on exports, and in particular agricultural exports, has a major impact on the U.S. water transportation industry. The United States is the world’s largest agricultural exporting country. U.S. agricultural exports in 2018 generated more than $300 billion in economic output and directly supporting more than one million jobs. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, about one out of three acres in our country are planted for export. Agricultural exports account for about a quarter of farm cash receipts, in which 73 percent of these exports and 65 percent of imports were carried on U.S. waterways. American farmers need foreign markets to sell commodities and value-added agricultural products. Compared to the overall economy, U.S. agriculture is twice as reliant on overseas markets.


Consumers in developing countries around the world choose different foods to eat as their incomes rise. As a result, there are emerging opportunities for exporting more meat, dairy products and farm commodities. U.S. exporters need to be able to take advantage of those opportunities with 96 percent of the world’s consumers living outside the United States. As the largest exporter of agricultural products in the world, the United States delivers high-quality, reliable products to consumers around the globe. Here at home, these exports are essential to profitability in agriculture, and the economic activity they generate ripples through the domestic economy.


We need to make sure that our current inland waterway infrastructure is maintained in good condition. Congress has implemented policy changes that provided more funding for the Inland Waterways Trust Fund and adjusted cost-shares of the fund to more efficiently fund and complete construction projects. I ask for robust funding to support the use of the Inland Waterways Trust Fund for construction. This is necessary to ensure that the inland waterways modernization, replacement, and rehabilitation construction projects are funded at the level supportable by the Inland Waterways Trust Fund


The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Civil Works program currently faces a large unmet need in the Operations and Maintenance account. I have been encouraged that in the last several years, Congress has provided additional funding to help address these backlogs. I request as much funding as possible be provided for these operation and maintenance activities.


The Investigations account is also crucial for the inland waterways system. There are currently fifteen modernization projects that are waiting to begin construction. It is critically important to complete design of these projects so they can begin construction when Inland Waterways Trust Fund dollars become available. Failure to have design completed will delay project delivery, ultimately leading to increased total cost of the projects, as well as adding additional time to scheduled project completion. I ask that the Investigations accounts be funded at a level to support these projects given current budgetary constraints.


On the Upper Mississippi River, multiple locks are well beyond their fifty-year design life and cannot accommodate modern tows. Having to decouple the barges significantly slows down traffic on the river and increases costs and emissions. I worked with my Upper Mississippi River colleagues, and a large, broad stakeholder coalition, to get the initial authorization for this lock and dam modernization, the Navigation and Ecosystem Restoration Program (NESP), signed into law. We have also continued to work on receiving the preconstruction engineering and design (PED) funding for NESP. It is important for NESP to receive new start funding so construction on these improvements can start taking place. Lock and Dam 25, which is a key feature of NESP, has received a significant portion of the $72.5 million appropriated for NESP thus far and is ready to move to construction. NESP is a key priority for me, the State of Iowa, the region, the whole Mississippi River and the world.


We need all modes of transportation to help us deliver our inputs, goods and commodities both domestically and internationally. I want to see robust navigation on the Mississippi River and other inland waterways flourish. I look forward to continuing to work with my congressional colleagues and the administration on these important issues as appropriations and infrastructure legislation is prepared and discussed.