Aiming to update existing U.S waterways infrastructure and provide additional funds for future projects, on May 15 the Senate passed the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) on an 83 to 14 vote. The act was backed by numerous business, labor and agriculture advocacy groups.

Companion legislation in the House -- “Waterways are Vital for the Economy, Energy, Efficiency, and Environment Act” (WAVE 4, H.R. 1149) – is yet to be taken up.

Some 60 percent of the nation’s waterways infrastructure is at least 50 years old and there is a pressing need to refurbish ports and the river transportation system.

The waterways system, “allows less congestion on the highways,” said American Farm Bureau transportation specialist Andrew Walmsley. “It allows us to move products more cost-effectively. One 15-tow barge is the equivalent of about 216 rail cars or a little over 1,000 semi trucks. So you’re talking about a huge amount of products that are not congesting roadways or railways. When you look at transporting freight by water about one gallon of diesel fuel can move a ton of cargo 616 miles. That beats out rail at 478 miles or a truck of about 150 miles.”

Further, said Walmsley, “It’s really our superhighways on water. Over 60 percent of ag products that go to export move on our inland waterways system. You have vital inputs for everyday life, whether it’s coal, fuel, feeding grains, inputs for agriculture travels on our inland waterway system.”

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