Cry Me A River

Cornel Martin is President and CEO of Waterways Council, Inc., an organization which seeks to educate decision-makers, the news media and the general public about the importance of our nation’s inland waterways and the need to sustain and increase their reliability. Mr. Martin submitted the following to the Inland Report segment of Marine Link last month:

“Waterways Council, Inc. (WCI) and its more than 200 members were surprised and disappointed with President Obama’s announcement on September 6 that he intends to ask Congress for at least $ 50 billion in funding for infrastructure but made no mention of waterways infrastructure projects.

“The White House press statement said, ‘The goals of the infrastructure plan include rebuilding 150,000 miles of roads; constructing and maintaining 4,000 miles of railways, enough to go coast-to-coast; shorter, high-speed rail projects; and rehabilitating or reconstructing 150 miles of airport runways, while installing a next generation air navigation system designed to reduce travel times and delays.’

“Roads, rails and runways – why not rivers?

“WCI issued a press statement reacting to the Obama announcement: ‘While the nation celebrated Labor Day and all that the workforce has done to make America great, the waterways transportation industry was left disappointed and puzzled about why the President’s announcement earlier this week to fund at least $ 50 billion in infrastructure projects over the long term does not include any waterways or port projects. Our inland waterways not only support people who work on our rivers, but workers in our agricultural community and the many industries who rely on our waterways for affordable transportation of their goods, both domestically and for world markets. To not include and dismiss our nation’s most environmentally sound, energy efficient and congestion-relieving mode of transportation, when its lock and dam infrastructure consistently earns a “D” grade, is unreasonable and unacceptable.

“‘For all these reasons and more, the inland waterways industry remains a solution for the future and its infrastructure is critical to maintain a modern and efficient system of transportation for cargoes like grain, petroleum, corn, coal, steel, and aggregates that the United States and the world rely upon. In support of our nation’s labor force, our nation’s waterways have helped to make our country great. It is time to stop dismissing waterways transportation infrastructure and instead work together to keep America moving.’ –

“Given the climate in Congress and the reluctance to increase the deficit,” Mr. Martin continues, “this plan may go nowhere in the end, but the absence of waterways infrastructure projects as critical to receive funding is puzzling, discouraging and more than frustrating.

“Transportation on our nation’s rivers is simply the most energy-efficient, congestion-relieving environmentally green way to move our critical commodities for domestic consumption and export. One jumbo barge is equal to 70 trucks on our already over-crowded highways. That means 1,050 trucks on your commute home are equal to just one typical barge movement on our waterways.

“Our nation became prosperous in large part because of the existence of the rivers to budding ports and cities. Commerce on those waterway routes allows our agriculture industry to feed the world, our citizens to turn the lights on each day and heat their homes, our pharmaceutical companies to develop life-saving medicines from chemical shipments, and our icy roads in winter to receive salt so that cars and school buses can move safely. To not include locks and dams in infrastructure spending is short-sighted to say the least. Leaving the waterways out of any equation is simply bad for America.” –

Mr. Martin had more to say in the October edition of Marine Log. “WCI and its partnering organizations have been talking about the importance of waterways infrastructure since its inception,” he writes, ” and has been busy making the rounds on Capitol Hill, in the Administration, as well as with media outlets, discussing the Inland Waterways Capital Development Plan, the comprehensive, consensus-based package of recommendations formulated by a group of experts to address the need to improve the continued vitality of the U.S. inland navigation system. If adapted, perhaps as part of a potential Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) in 2010, this plan will better address the needs of the entire inland waterways system and provide more funding for greatly needed infrastructure improvements.

“This plan would – for the first time ever – prioritize navigation projects across the entire inland waterways system, improve the Corps of Engineers’ project management and processes to deliver projects on time and on budget, and recommend a funding mechanism that is affordable to meet system needs …

“If we maintain the status quo and make no improvements to the current delivery process, only six projects can be completed over the next 20 years. However, if Congress adopts the Capital Development Plan as proposed, 25 critical infrastructure projects will be completed over the next 20 years.

“The Capital Development Plan, along with reaching out to the Administration as they formulate the details of the infrastructure bill, will be WCI’s priorities moving ahead. The question then remains, what will be the priority of our nation in the years ahead as we try to restore greatness to the basics of what made us a powerhouse long ago? Leaving the waterways out of the question is just bad for America.” –

This WCI proposal brings us back to what we’ve been saying about the “multiplier effect”. Unlike the useless stone walls and bridges-to-nowhere built during the “make-work” CCC programs of the Great Depression – and presumably to be duplicated by planners in the current administration – the WCI’s proposed Capital Development Plan would benefit the nation in countless ways. What Mr. Martin is saying about the agriculture industry, and lights, and home heating, and medicines, and highway safety, means jobs, jobs and more jobs. The “multiplier effect” simply means jobs which generate money, which in turn generates jobs, which in turn generate money, which in turn generates jobs, which in turn generate money, etc., etc., etc. Now doesn’t that compound your interest?