Cutbacks May Hamper Mississippi Shipping & Shut Down Inland Waterway Projects in Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Kentucky in 2012

Posted on: May 16th, 2011 by Stas

Cutbacks May Hamper Mississippi Shipping & Shut Down Inland Waterway Projects in Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Kentucky in 2012

By Stas Margaronis, RBTUS, May 2, 2011

Congressional and Obama Administration resistance to adequately funding key dams and locks along the Tennessee, Monongahela rivers plus inadequate dredging of  the  Mississippi river between New Orleans and Baton Rouge could cripple  river traffic in Tennessee, Kentucky, Pennsylvania and Louisiana in 2012, according to  Waterways Council, Inc (WCI).

Cornel Martin, president of WCI, representing farmers, tug and barge companies and other river interests says chronic U.S. shortfalls in funding dams, locks and dredging projects may result in several critical projects being shut down in 2012. The result could be to shift millions of tons of freight onto already congested highways and increase shipping costs transporting freight by truck as opposed to more fuel-efficient tugs and barges. The result would also increase pollution.

The American Society of Civil Engineers in its “2009 Report Card” on U.S. infrastructure investments noted:

“The average tow barge can carry the equivalent of 870 tractor trailers loads. Of the 257 locks still in use on the nation’s inland waterways, 30 were built in the 1800s and another 92 are more than 60 years old. The average age of all federally owned and operated locks is nearly 60 years, well past their planned designed life of 50 years.”

Martin says the United States ideally needs to invest $18 billion to modernize the inland waterway system, but must, at least, invest $7.6 billion over the next 20 years to upgrade and replace the most important facilities. Otherwise a huge flow of new trucking will create new congestion on the nation’s highways along river corridors. He cites analysis by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) reporting  problems upgrading three lock and dam projects. His organization has proposed a 30% to 45% increase in the diesel fuel tax paid by tug and barge companies operating on the rivers to fund part of that $7.6 billion, but that proposal has been rejected by the Obama Administration and is struggling to gain support in a Congress insistent on cutting spending and avoiding any tax increases. He also cited insufficient funding for dredging of the lower Mississippi river ship channel:

1) Lower Mississippi dredging between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Ken Wells, founder of the Big River Coalition, which represents shippers, vessel operators and farm organizations, says an annual $20 million spending shortfall in the USACE dredging of the Mississippi is causing a recurring dredging problem. This could resurface by June as waters recede on the river. Recent vessel restrictions imposed along the Mississippi reflect a long-term failure to adequately invest in keeping the river free from silting. Wells says that without a dramatic increase in federal spending, commerce along the Mississippi river will face growing disruptions: “Cuts for the sake of cuts by Congress do not make sense when the commerce on our waterways is in desperate need of new investment.”

Background and Importance: On January 25th, restrictions went into effect on ships entering and leaving the Mississippi river limiting the draft of ships to no more than 44 feet, down from the 45-foot river channel depth authorized by Congress. New dredging has restored the ship channel to its 45 foot depth, but this may be short-lived. Wells says that new dredging by USACE will not solve the long-term problem on the river because increased shoaling particularly north of New Orleans occurs at bends in the river. This is narrowing the ship channel and could eventually lead to “one way traffic, which would be disastrous for commerce and navigation.”

Mitchell Smith, operations manager for the Port of South Louisiana, based in LaPlace, Louisiana says the long-term problem is that “Washington does not have a grasp that without adequate funding for dredging we are restricting the amount of vessel traffic on the Mississippi that impacts grain, coal and other bulk shippers in 31 states and this slows exports and causes losses in sales.”

Smith says that the 44 foot restriction on the lower Mississippi caused a loss of twelve inches of depth in the river due to inadequate dredging. This represents a potential increase to shippers of about $600,000 per ship as additional vessels, port costs and delays are factored in.

Cornel Martin says about 60% of all grain shipments coming from states such as Iowa, Missouri, Illinois, North and South Dakota are shipped by barge down to ports such as New Orleans and South Louisiana for export. American farmers have been increasing exports to meet shortfalls in other countries caused by heat, drought and floods but now face delays and potential losses due to the U.S. spending shortfalls in the nation’s inland waterway system.

Smith says the Port of South Louisiana accounts for 54% of all U.S. grain shipments and handles 290 million tons of import and export cargo. The port also handles 20% of U.S. refinery processing and is a major export center for coal.

Impact of Cutbacks: Smith, Martin and Wells agree that the problem has been festering for years. In the case of dredging, Martin says the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund actually has a $6 billion surplus, but the funds are not being fully utilized in order to maintain an offset to the U.S. budget deficit.

2) Lower Monongahela River Locks & Dams. The Lower Monongahela River Project is located in southwestern Pennsylvania upstream from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on the Monongahela river. Locks and Dam 2 are located 11.2 miles away and  Locks and Dam 3, are 23.8 miles away while Locks and Dam 4, are 41.5 miles away.

Planned Upgrade: The project was authorized for construction by the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 1992 to address the deteriorated condition of navigation facilities along the Lower Monongahela river. Specific concerns were the very real risks of navigation system failure related to the poor structural condition of Dam 2, Locks and Dam 3, and Locks 4.   Locks and Dam 3 were built in 1907. They are among the oldest structures operating in our inland navigation system, and the most structurally deficient navigation facility on the Monongahela river. The USACE says that under the “two-for-three” replacement plan, this 100 year old Locks and Dam will be removed from the inland waterway system as soon as the 75-year old, undersized Locks 4 are replaced with larger and modernized lock facilities, and Pools 2 and 3 can be adjusted and regulated as one navigation pool by the new gated Braddock Dam.

Background and Importance: In 2008, 21.7 million tons of commerce worth $1.7 billion transited one or more of these locks. Eighty-six percent of this traffic was coal. Traffic growth forecast is 37.8 million tons by 2030. This strategic reach of the Monongahela river is critical to the export of bituminous coal out of the Northern Appalachian coal-fields of southwestern Pennsylvania and northwestern West Virginia, and for the import of fuels and other bulk commodities into the region. The Lower Monongahela River System links the country’s largest metallurgical coke plant and the country’s most productive underground coal mine with the Ohio river and other ports further south. Traffic through the Lower Monongahela River System is projected to increase from the actual 22.6 million tons logged in 2000, to between 24.3 and 31.4 million tons in 2020.

Impact of Cutbacks: Martin says this project requires over $1 billion to be completed. It currently has funding for only $1 million in President Obama’s proposed FY 2012 budget. Unless Congress authorizes new funding the project will be brought to a halt, he says. USACE says the project is cost-shared 50/50 with the Inland Waterway Trust Fund. Total project cost is now estimated at $1.7 billion. Initial projections estimated that the project would cost $554 million. Approximately $500 million has been expended through FY 2010, leaving a balance of $1.2 billion to complete the project. The FY 2011 request was only $2 million. These navigation facilities have already outlived their design life and their respective removal and replacement is critical to keeping the Lower Monongahela River System a reliable and efficient waterway, USACE says.

3) Kentucky and Barkley Locks and Dam. The complex is located on the Tennessee river in Livingston and Marshall Counties, Kentucky.

Proposed Upgrade: The Kentucky Lock Addition Project is located at Mile 22.4 on the Tennessee river in western Kentucky. It was authorized by the Water Resources Development Act of 1996. The project consists of a new 110’ X 1200’ lock adjacent to the existing 110’ X 600’ lock. In addition three major relocations are required to construct the lock: 1) the relocation of four large transmission towers; 2) construction of a new two-lane highway bridge across the Tennessee river; and 3) construction of a new single track railroad bridge across the Tennessee river. The new lock is needed because of the existing lock’s inability to meet current and future traffic demands without significant delays. Over the last 10 years, average delays per tow have ranged from three to seven hours, and projected traffic increases will only aggravate these delays.

Background and Importance: From 1997 to 2004 annual tonnage passing through the Kentucky-Barkley system has ranged from 35 million to 43 million tons going to and from 20 states. Traffic forecasts indicate that tonnage levels will increase between 51.8 million and 54.9 million tons by 2020. Kentucky Lock is the lowermost lock on the Tennessee river and is the gateway for the 12 locks located upstream on the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers. The original 110’ x 600’ lock chamber was completed in 1945. In 2008, tonnage on the Kentucky-Barkley System was over 35.3 million tons of commerce worth more than $5.4 billion. Major commodities included coal, aggregates, iron/steel and grain.

Impact of Cutbacks: The USACE says the project is cost-shared 50/50 with the Inland Waterways Trust Fund. The total project cost is estimated to be $663.5 million for an assumed completion date of 2015. Delays beyond 2015 will increase this cost estimate. Construction on the project commenced in July 1998. At the end of FY 2009, it was estimated that $390 million was needed to complete the project. Unfortunately, only $945,000 was appropriated in FY 2010. No funds are requested in President Obama’s FY 2012 budget making the completion date under current funding levels unknown and effectively bringing the project to a halt, Martin says.

4)  Chickamauga Lock & Dams. The Chickamauga Lock Replacement Project is located on the Tennessee river in Chattanooga, Tennessee

Planned Upgrade: USACE says the new lock is required because of structural deficiencies of the existing lock resulting from physical expansion of the concrete structure. This phenomenon of concrete growth was observed soon after initial construction and is caused by reaction between the alkali in the cement and the rock aggregate

Background and Importance: Commodities traversing Chickamauga Lock have origins or destinations in 17 states in the South, Mid-West, and Mid-Atlantic regions, traveling an average 1,400 miles. From 1997 to 2003 annual tonnage passing through the lock has ranged from 1.9 million to 2.7 million tons. Chickamauga Lock is the gateway to the upper Tennessee river serving 318 miles from Chattanooga to Oak Ridge and Knoxville, Tennessee. This reach of the river provides navigation to the U.S. Department of Energy’s facilities at Oak Ridge and two nuclear power plants that serve the region.

Chickamauga Lock has an average locking time per tow of almost 8 hours, the highest in the Ohio River System. Only four locks in the System have a higher average delay time.

Impact of Cutbacks: USACE says the project is cost-shared 50/50 with the Inland Waterways Trust Fund. The total project cost is estimated to be $365 million with an assumed lock completion date of 2013. Delays beyond 2013 will increase this cost estimate. The 2009 budget provided $42 million to continue construction. An additional $52.4 million was provided through stimulus funding in 2009 and 2010. Unfortunately, the FY 2010 Appropriation was only $1 million and $0 was requested by House and  Senate Appropriations and the President’s budget in FY 2011 and FY 2012. This, too, effectively brings the project to a halt, Martin says.


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