Following the closure of Lock 27 on the Mississippi River last week, six U.S. senators submitted a letter to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee asking the group to consider improvements to the river infrastructure as part of the Water Resources Development Act.
The Senators submitting the letter, Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Mark Kirk, R-Ill., Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., Roy Blunt, R-Mo., Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said the deteriorating infrastructure on the Mississippi River couldn't "meet demands of a 21st century economy."
The Senators asked committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Ranking Member Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., to include funding in the WRDA to develop long-term strategies to improve locks and dams along the river and expedite construction projects.
With a focus on agriculture, the Senators called the Mississippi River the "backbone" of waterway transportation and said it transports $12 billion worth of products each year, including one billion bushels of grain.
Last week's Lock 27 shutdown, which caused a backup of barges to collect in the upper Mississippi River came at one of the most important periods of the year to Midwestern agriculture, the Senators wrote.
The backup, which was caused by a faulty protection cell, required complete shutdown of the lock and immediate repairs. Crews worked for five days to reopen the lock, and it took another two to return traffic to near normal.
An Army Corps of Engineers spokesperson estimated the closure was costing the economy nearly $2.8 million per day.
The Senators said river transportation could offer timeliness and reliability, but not without improvements. As technology has changed, they wrote, infrastructure on the river should be modernized.
"The current system was built 70 years ago and updates are needed to fit the requirements of modern barge technology," the letter said.
Urging the committee to collaborate with river stakeholders, the group said new funding would relieve traffic on highways and railroads and improve the environment.
"This efficient river transportation is of utmost importance to the nation," the Senators wrote. "Shipping via barge keeps exports competitive and reduces transportation costs. That is good for producers and consumers."