Waterways Council: Ohio River closures shows need for infrastructure
The Ohio River is open for commerce today, but repeated lock closures in recent weeks demonstrate the need for Congress to pass the kind of infrastructure bill that President Donald Trump proposed during his campaign and early in his term, according to the Waterways Council Inc.
The river reopened on Oct. 14 after it had been closed for nearly a week due to rising river conditions that exceeded the maximum locking stage of 20.7 feet, the Waterways Council said.
As of Oct. 17, there are 58 vessels with 658 barges covering roughly a 20-mile stretch of river waiting to go through Lock and Dam 52, the council said. Before the lock reopened, there were 62 vessels with 719 barges, a backup of more than 50 miles, waiting to use it.
On Oct. 2, the Ohio River was closed after the failure of hydraulics that open and close the lower gate at Lock 53 near Brookport, Ill. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which runs the locks and dams, has attempted to fix the problems, but they keep recurring.
The two facilities have been in service since 1928 and are to be replaced by the Olmsted Lock and Dam, which was authorized in 1988 but will not open until next year. Once Olmsted is finished, the old locks and dam will be removed, but “67 percent of the locks and dams on the system have exceeded their economic design life of 50 years,” said Debra Calhoun, the Waterways Council vice president.
In a news release, the Waterways Council noted, “The failure of this critical infrastructure comes just months after President Trump visited the Ohio River on June 7, proclaiming that ‘these critical corridors of commerce depend on a dilapidated system of locks and dams that are more than half a century old.’”
“And their condition, as you know better than anybody, is in bad shape,” Trump told those gathered at the river that day. “It continues to decay. Capital improvements of the system, which (are) so important, have been massively underfunded. And there’s an $8.7 billion maintenance backlog that is only getting bigger and getting worse … citizens know firsthand that the rivers, like the beautiful Ohio River, carry the life blood of our heartland.”
The Waterways Council pointed out that Trump also noted a similar outage on the river near Pittsburgh, quoting the president as saying “Last December … one lock built more than 50 years ago had to be shut down for five days due to hydraulic failure. And you know what that means? Five days means everything comes to a halt.”
“We simply cannot tolerate a five-day shutdown on a major thoroughfare for American coal, American oil, and American steel, which is going to get more and bigger,” the president said. “America must have the best, fastest and most reliable infrastructure anywhere in the world. We cannot accept these conditions any longer.”
In the release, the Waterways Council emphasized that the administration announced it will undertake a $1 trillion initiative to repair America’s infrastructure, and that the group continues to advocate for modernization of the inland waterways lock and dam system as part of this initiative.
“Together, we will fix it. We will create the first-class infrastructure our country and our people deserve,” Trump said in his speech, the council pointed out ❖