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USACE Continues Ongoing Repairs, Maintenance on Aging Locks and Dams
As the government works on a new infrastructure bill, the U.S. Army Corps of
Engineers continues to repair and maintain the aging locks and dams on the U.S.
DTN Basis Analyst
The American Society of Civil Engineers' 2021 infrastructure report card
released in March graded the nation's inland navigation system a "D-plus." That
grade was a slight improvement from the prior "D" with the 2021 higher grade
reflecting the "reversal of chronic under-investment in the inland waterways,
more purposeful and efficient planning by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the
2014 increase in the diesel fuel tax, and higher operations and maintenance
funding that has resulted in a reduction of unscheduled lock outages," said
The ASCE report said the waterway infrastructure "includes locks and dams as
well as navigation channels" and added that shipping delays cost up to $739 per
hour for an average tow within the United States.
President Joe Biden's infrastructure plan would dedicate $17 billion to
improve waterways and ports. A Senate Republican counteroffer also proposes
spending billions to upgrade waterways. Efforts to advance legislation that
both parties can agree on continues in Washington. In the meantime, the Corps
continues to repair and maintain the locks and dams on the U.S. river system,
and in some cases, those repairs are a temporary fix to keep them operating
Patrick Moes, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, St. Paul District, in his April
2021 story "A Winter to Remember: Corps of Engineers continues annual winter
maintenance fight to preserve aging infrastructure" noted that, according to
the Waterways Council Inc. 2020 annual report, approximately 9,700 tows with
55,000 barges were delayed by an average of 12.23 hours across the entire
inland navigation system in 2020. The delays resulted in an estimated cost to
the economy of nearly $84 million. By comparison, unprecedented high water
nationwide in 2019 delayed more than 18,000 tows with more than 60,000 barges.
The delays resulted in an estimated economic impact of nearly $166 million,
according to the report.
While delays can be costly, the inland navigation system is still a
reliable, cost-effective mode of transportation that is also the safest, most
fuel-efficient and most environmentally friendly. Shipping bulk commodities
such as cement, coal, fertilizer, soybeans and corn on the Upper Mississippi
River is a simple decision for many producers -- it saves money, Moes noted.
In Minnesota, corn production is credited with contributing $160 million in
economic output, according to a 2019 U.S. Department of Agriculture report
titled "The Importance of Inland Waterways to U.S. Agriculture." The analysis
found that increased investment in the inland waterways system would allow for
the transportation of increased volumes of commodities with farm products
growing from 14% of commodity volumes on the system in 2016 to 25% by 2029 and
29% by 2045.
Bryan Peterson, St. Paul District navigation business line manager, said
agriculture producers save around $1 per bushel when shipping their corn and
soybeans via the river compared to other transportation modes such as trains or
trucks. He added that shippers saved around $400 million in 2020 just within
the St. Paul District. According to the USDA report, it's estimated that farm
products moved via barge save farmers anywhere between $7 billion and $9
billion annually. This includes commodities shipped on the Upper Mississippi
"Waterways infrastructure continues to provide economic savings as well as
security to the Upper Midwest but requires additional maintenance to ensure it
continues performing as it was designed in the 1930s," said Peterson.
Recognizing the importance of continued maintenance and eyeing an opportunity
to fight back against Mother Nature, Peterson said Corps staff and contractors
up and down the Upper Mississippi River galvanized together this past winter to
complete more than a dozen major maintenance projects on the locks and dams. He
said he is proud that the team worked tirelessly to get the projects finished
in time for the start of the 2021 Upper Mississippi River navigation season.
"The repairs varied in size and scope," said Peterson. Moes noted that, in
the St. Paul District, Corps staff focused their efforts on replacing miter
gate anchorages at Lock and Dam 2 near Hastings, Minnesota; straightening miter
gates at Lock and Dam 3 near Red Wing, Minnesota; dewatering Lock and Dam 4
near Alma, Wisconsin, for major maintenance repairs that occur approximately
every 20 years; and upgrading tow rails at Lock and Dam 5 near Minnesota City,
Minnesota, and Lock and Dam 5A, near Fountain City, Wisconsin. The tow rail
upgrades assist upbound tows to safely maneuver through the lock.
Despite the many hours worked and repairs completed this past winter,
Peterson said he knows the job is far from complete, with more work to be done
to sustain the reliable system our partners depend upon. "We will continue to
address the highest priority projects within the Mississippi Valley Division
through the prioritization of maintenance process to assure the limited funding
goes toward the projects that represent the highest risk to the system," he
Mary Kennedy can be reached at email@example.com
Follow her on Twitter @MaryCKenn
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