The governors of Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, and Wisconsin have made their case to President Obama to increase investments on the Mississippi River that will improve navigation, relieve congestion among other methods of transportation, and ensure benefits from the Panama Canal expansion.
In a joint letter sent last week to the President, the governors expressed support for the Navigation and Ecosystem Sustainability Program, authorized by Congress in 2007, which integrates lock capacity expansion and modernization with ecosystem restoration efforts.
The governors requested the President's support for funding to address infrastructure needs that will ensure the river's capacity to relieve congestion on other parts of the nation's multi-modal transportation network.
These investments will increase system's reliability and efficiency, minimize safety risks, and stimulate market opportunities, the governors say.
"The time is now to both address the navigation system's longstanding needs and ensure its capacity to relieve congestion on other parts of our nation's multi-modal infrastructure," the governors wrote, noting that the infrastructure investments would also allow the region to capitalize on the Panama Canal's expansion, and drive the costs of transportation lower.
Iowa Governor Terry Brandstad notes that the Midwest's prosperity also depends upon the Mississippi River's viability as it moves a substantial portion of the nation's agricultural exports to the Gulf of Mexico.
"The Upper Mississippi River is a thoroughfare for trade in this region," Branstad said. "Today, it helps the nation compete in the global economy, with 78% of U.S. exports of corn and soybeans flowing to the world market via the Mississippi River."
In the near term, the governors are seeking funding to immediately construct small-scale navigation efficiency improvements; restoration projects to return economic and ecological benefits; and planning for at least one new 1,200-foot lock chamber.
Under the NESP, congress authorized construction of new 1,200-foot locks at Lock and Dams 20, 21, 22, 24, and 25 on the Upper Mississippi River and at La Grange and Peoria on the Illinois Waterway. The current 600-foot locks found at most Upper Mississippi dams require the modern 15-barge tow configuration to be split in two, dramatically increasing lockage times at the most congested locks lower on the system, according to the Upper Mississippi River Basin Association.
The small-scale navigation efficiency projects authorized by Congress include such measures as switchboats at Locks 20-25; mooring cells at Locks 14, 22, and La Grange; and a guidewall extension at Lock 22 that will better assist operators in transiting the locks prior to completion of the new 1,200-foot locks, UMRBA says.
Congress also authorized NESP to include comparable ecological restoration funding to address the effects of the lock and dam system; UMRBA says habitat projects on the Upper Mississippi have restored the river's natural ecological processes and improved its ability to support an array of human uses.
Funding for NESP was last appropriated in 2011, the governors said. Without funding in the President's 2016 budget, the program could be deauthorized.
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