The year was 2008, the long awaited water resource development act to upgrade the locks and dam system on the Upper Mississippi and Illinois Rivers was approved as part of the 2008 Farm Bill. The only hitch, no financing was provided. No Worry, surely that would be taken care of in the near future. Now fast forward to the fall of 2013 and agriculture is still looking for those WRDA Dollars, however that may be resolved yet this year. Back in May on a strong bipartisan vote a bill to authorize funding to modernize the nations locks and dams system was passed by the Senate.
The House looked like they too were going to follow suit as a vote was scheduled for this week. However, with the death of Congressman Bill Young the House cancelled their Thursday session without giving any new timetable for when the bill will be addressed. Still most Washington Watchers say there is no reason to panic, the House bill, similar to the one in the Senate, does have bipartisan support and most feel when it does arrive for a vote it will be passed.
Andrew Walmsley, transportation specialist for the American Farm Bureau Federation says because the waterways are a key mode of transportation for U.S. goods and so many states are affected by them, support seems to be there for passage of a bill
Walmsley added that using barge traffic is more practical, since one barge is equivalent to 215 railroad cars or a little over 1,000 trucks. He adds If we were to lose the locks and dams system the question is then raised are we equipped to handle the heavier traffic on our rail and highway system. He also pointed to the expansion of the Panama Canal and the use of large capacity ships to enhance the position of U.S. Exports.
Now if and when the House Bill does get passed, there is still the hurdle of working out the differences between the House and Senate version. The biggest difference seems to be that the Senate bill would leave approval of water related projects to the executive branch while the House version calls for that authority to stay with Congress. Nothing is ever easy in Congress.