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Iowa, Illinois lawmakers announce $829M plan to upgrade Mississippi River locks and dams

January 19, 2022   The Valley News

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Iowa and Illinois lawmakers on Wednesday announced the largest investment in lock and dam funding in several decades as a result of the bipartisan infrastructure bill.


The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released spending plans that include an $829.1 million investment in lock and dam modernization projects along the upper Mississippi River with funding made available by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.


Wednesday's announced work plan represents the single largest investment to Mississippi River locks and dams since their original construction in the 1930s, according to Waterways Council Inc. The Washington, D.C.-based public policy organization has pushed additional funding for a modern and well-maintained national system of ports and inland waterways, including lock and dam infrastructure.


"Today’s release of inland waterways infrastructure funds will ... create thousands of skilled jobs for America’s building trades, make American farmers more competitive and promote energy security," Waterways Council Inc. President and CEO Tracy Zea said in a statement.  Specifically, the funding will be used to complete the modernization of Lock & Dam 25 north of St. Louis, including the construction of a new 1,200-foot lock, as well as an environmental restoration project at Lock & Dam 22 in Missouri and other small-scale ecosystem and navigation projects in the region.



Lawmakers say the funding will finally speed long-delayed replacement of river locks that are well beyond their 50-year design life and cannot accommodate modern tows.


Most of America’s locks and dams were built in the 1920s and 1930s and are critical for Midwest farmers who rely on the river to export corn and soybeans.


Congress originally authorized Upper Mississippi River locks modernization in 2007, but no construction funds were appropriated until this fiscal year.


The federal program will modernize and expand seven outdated locks at the most congested lock locations along the upper Mississippi and Illinois rivers as well as fund more than $2 billion in ecosystem restoration and create nearly 50 million person-hours of living wage construction jobs, according to lawmakers.


In addition to facilitating the movement of about 630 million tons of cargo a year valued at $232 billion, the inland waterway system supports more than a half million jobs, according to U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa.


Wednesday's announcement comes a month after Grassley joined Democratic Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, and U.S. Reps. Cheri Bustos, D-Moline, and Ashley Hinson, R-Marion, in writing a letter calling on the Corps of Engineers to prioritize funding of lock and dam upgrades on the upper Mississippi and Illinois rivers, utilizing $2.5 billion set aside for inland waterways provided in the new infrastructure bill.


"Today’s announcement is a huge win for our economy, jobs, American farmers, trade and the environment," Bustos said in a statement. "This years-long effort to modernize the locks and dams of the Mississippi will help our agricultural producers bring tons of goods to market faster, increase trade by speeding up the transport of American products, spur job creation, alleviate supply chain stress and help reduce transportation emissions. With this funding, we’re bringing taxpayer dollars home and revolutionizing how efficiently we utilize our waterways."


A 2019 study released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture showed that rebuilding river locks would inject $72 billion more dollars into the U.S. economy.


"The lock and dam system along the Upper Mississippi River is critical to Iowa’s agriculture economy and our country’s entire supply chain," Hinson said in a statement. "(T)his landmark investment will be game-changing for Iowans and communities along the Mississippi River like Dubuque. Over 60% of our nation’s grain exports travel through this lock and dam system, and it is a massive economic engine for the entire state."


Hinson, though, voted against the infrastructure bill, which Democrats jumped on.


"Ashley Hinson's sad and desperate attempt to take credit for funding she opposed is a slap in the face to the farmers, small business owners, and communities that will benefit from these 'game-changing' investments in Iowa's infrastructure," Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesperson Elena Kuhn said in a statement.


Grassley was among 19 Republicans who backed the bill when it passed the U.S. Senate in August.

"When I voted for the bipartisan infrastructure bill, I was voting for exactly this type of federal support for critical infrastructure that Iowans depend on," Grassley said Wednesday on a weekly conference call with Iowa reporters.


Durbin called the announcement "the beginning of a new era for waterway infrastructure and environmental restoration in Illinois."