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Transportation investments help the Quad-Cities (opinion)

February 4, 2022   Sen. Chuck Grassley, via Quad-City Times

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Iowans who live in farming communities and river towns along the upper Mississippi River enjoy the majesty of the bluffs rising hundreds of feet above river level. As the waters flow south towards the Quad Cities, the river widens and serves as a crown jewel to commercial enterprise and hallmark of America’s Heartland.


Nearly 200 years ago, in 1824 Congress authorized navigation improvements, clearing debris and steamboat wrecks at Keokuk and Rock Island. In later years, public works projects during the Great Depression included dredging and installing locks and dams to manage the river. Today, Iowa has 11 permanent lock and dam systems, including No. 15 at the Quad Cities.


From fishing to farming, recreation and tourism, the Mississippi River is instrumental to the regional economy and locals’ way of life. Just consider its value to Midwestern farmers and the tens of thousands of jobs in ag-related services and manufacturers along the supply chain. Nearly every bushel of grain harvested in Iowa and Illinois and exported overseas will travel along the Mississippi River and its system of locks and dams on its way to the Gulf of Mexico.


For years I’ve heard from farm commodity groups about the critical need to invest in the outdated system of locks and dams. In 2007, Congress authorized the Water Resources Development Act that included the Navigation and Ecosystem Sustainability Program (NESP) to examine how best to modernize the navigation system with proper stewardship of fish, waterfowl and other environmental concerns. At that time, it was estimated farmers would lose 17 cents/bushel if the system didn’t get updated. For 15 years, Iowa ag, labor and waterway groups have advocated with me and other members of the federal delegation to keep this critical project moving. Since day one, I’ve led efforts in Washington to secure federal dollars every step of the way. At long last, moving from the drawing board to hiring hard hats to get to work is on the horizon.


Although President Trump supported an even bigger investment in America’s infrastructure, legislation never made it to his desk. Likewise, President Biden’s infrastructure plan was doomed to fail when he tried to bundle it with unrelated spending on social welfare and climate programs. By splitting real infrastructure from his Build Back Better program, lawmakers were able to get the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act across the finish line with my support. I voted for it because it was the right thing to do for Iowa. More than half of the money renews vital funding streams for the Highway Trust Fund that state departments of transportation depend on for road improvements and surface transportation projects. New spending will help build out rural broadband, fix structurally deficient bridges, remove lead pipes for clean drinking water, upgrade airports, and modernize locks and dams.


Residents here in the Quad Cities have a front row seat on the riverfront. If anyone can relate that good things come to those who wait, it’s this community. The iconic bridges connecting the Quad Cities symbolize how historic investments in infrastructure build bridges to a better future. Building the new I-74 bridge connecting Bettendorf and Moline was 30 years in the making. It had buy-in from the community and bi-state, bipartisan and bicameral backing in Congress. As former chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, I went to bat for this project during renewals of federal surface transportation bills. Seeing projects like this come to fruition is gratifying to know residents will enjoy safer commutes and better amenities today and in the future.


My support for the 2021 infrastructure law followed my longstanding approach to representative government. Dozens of Iowa organizations, from farm commodity groups to local chambers of commerce, pushed for this once-a-generation investment because they know better roads, bridges and broadband will prime the economic pump for years to come.


Already, the Quad Cities is getting a taste of what’s to come. On top of recently announced federal grants to the Davenport Municipal Airport and Quad Cities International Airport, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced an $829.1 million investment in lock and dam modernization projects along the upper Mississippi River. I’ve pushed the Corps to prioritize this project and joined forces with Senator Dick Durbin over these many years. At long last, Iowa’s agriculture, manufacturing and shipping industries can look forward to a functioning lock and dam system to move goods up and down the river with better cost and fuel efficiency. It will help relieve congestion and truck traffic on our roads. That pays it forward with transportation savings to the American economy.


As long as I’m in the U.S. Senate, I’ll work on behalf of Iowans to ensure government serves the people, including public works that pave the way for economic growth and prosperity for generations to come.