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By Staff | Sep 16, 2011

An Illinois subscriber called me last week asking advice on what subject that he should bring up in a meeting scheduled with his U.S. Congressman.

I had a question for his Congressman that has been puzzling me: Why have all the heartland Congressional delegations been so ineffective in bringing about the modernization of aging outdated locks and dams on the Mississippi River?

The Mississippi lock and dam system was built in the 1930s and the locks are too small to accommodate the most efficient barge systems that could be employed today. Replacement is sorely needed and would pay good returns for decades into the future as the cost of shipping would be reduced as larger barges could then transit the locks.

Panama is widening and deepening the Panama Canal to update it to handle larger ships and those modern grain ships won’t be able to load at the Gulf unless significant port upgrades are undergone. Panama began this $5.25 billion project in 2006 and expects completion in 2014.

The world is improving its shipping infrastructure while this country lags behind using outdated technology, losing the competitive edge that it once had. Panama is moving past the U.S. – Panama!

Updating the Mississippi locks and dams has been in the planning stages for almost two decades. We can lose $30 billion in Iraq and Pakistan that they can’t even account for and more than that in the corruption in Afghanistan that they are not going to ever fix, but can’t come up with a fraction of that amount to update our intercoastal barge shipping infrastructure.

We spent $700 billion on an economic stimulus plan, and I don’t even know where I could go to stand on any of it today. It was spent foolishly to bail out fiscally irresponsible states and only a small fraction of the total was spent on anything like the Hoover Dam or Golden Gate Bridge that will actually deliver a long-term economic return on investment. You can give a fish to provide someone in need a meal or you can help him buy a fishing boat and train him to fish.

The $700 billion economic stimulus plan didn’t buy any boats or produce many fishermen. It provided a lot of meals that have now been consumed and the recipients are hungry again, as it is no surprise that the spending produced little sustainable economic benefit.

It is astounding to me that the Heartland’s congressional delegation, with some long term senators, like Iowa’s Chuck Grassley and Tom Harkin, who have some seniority influence, could not get the locks and dams upgraded included in the stimulus spending.

They claimed to be crying for shovel-ready infrastructure projects. What the heck is modernizing locks and dams if not shovel-ready or so close to it?

The question is how can the Heartland congressional delegation be this ineffective that they can not give such a project away to Washington when they were buying every stupid worthless idea for stimulus spending that was out there?

This is bi-partisan ineffectiveness. It makes you wonder if any of these elected officials can function. A bi-partisan study done by state and local politicians says that transportation bottlenecks are costing the nation $200 billion a year or 1.6 percent of national output every year.

When I heard they were planning to spend $700 billion on stimulus I was initially excited for it. I was thinking CCC and Hoover Dam, and all they were thinking was to employ a few people for a few months doing something no one can remember what it was the next year.

It is estimated that it would take $2.2 trillion over the next 5 years to upgrade U.S. roads, highways, seaports, rail lines, and bridges according to the American Society of Engineers and $700 billion would have been a good down payment on it. We have added $4 trillion from the Bush wars onto the deficit so why not $700 billion invested here at home?

The question was why has the modernization of locks and dams not been fully funded and completed? Too many environmentalists standing in front of it?

Granted they would like to take out the existing locks and dams and all the people living on the river, too, restoring all to its natural state for holistic purposes, but we don’t allow things of national interest to be impeded. At least we never used to.

When Panama makes us look like an undeveloped nation then our national interest has been circumvented. My favorite President, Theodore Roosevelt, got the Panama Canal built despite many small-minded oppositionists. His legislative descendants can’t even fix transportation impediments on a river in this country.

How small do we want to get? We have the military capability to bring logistics to the most remote regions of the world while we use outdated transportation infrastructure at home. 20 years ought to be long enough to plan to update our locks and dams.

River transportation companies have been paying into a fund to pay for a substantial portion of the project yet the government can’t get its act together.

If that subscriber told his Congressman what I said, how I just said it, he would likely get thrown out of his office. It is why people are so frustrated out here though.

David Kruse is president of CommStock Investments Inc., author and producer of The CommStock Report, an ag commentary and market analysis available daily by radio and by subscription on DTN/FarmDayta and the Internet.

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