Washington, DC — Congress is moving to spend billions of dollars to
build bigger locks on the Upper Mississippi River and Illinois Waterway despite
a shrinking barge industry and insider predictions of a continuing contraction,
according to corporate and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers records released today

by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The bigger locks
are supposed to speed transport by cutting lock congestion however barge traffic
levels have been declining for more than a decade, barge companies are pulling
underutilized barges off the river and congestion on the river is at modern
historic lows.

Even as Congress advances a $2.4 billion to replace every lock on the Illinois
Waterway and the Mississippi north of St. Louis, the country’s largest
barge company, American Commercial Barge Lines, is retrenching. ACBL stated
in its most recent quarterly filing with the Security and Exchange Commission
that –

“During 2002 and through the beginning of 2003, we experienced a decline
in barging rates, reduced shipping volumes and excess barging capacity…We
believe that capacity is continuing to be removed from the barging sector.
According to Informa Economics, Inc. a private grain forecast service, from
1998 to 2004, the industry fleet size was reduced by 2,036 barges, or an 8.8%
reduction…This level represents the lowest number of barges in operation
within our industry since 1992. We believe capacity will continue to be taken
out of the industry as older barges reach the end of their useful lives.”

This Upper Mississippi lock expansion proposal has a particularly checkered
history. In 2000, Dr. Don Sweeney, then a Corps economist now a professor at
the University of Missouri, St. Louis, blew the whistle on manipulation of cost-benefit
analyses in a failed Corps management attempt to “justify” the project.
Dr. Sweeney’s disclosures were confirmed by a Department of the Army investigation
and later validated by three National Academies of Science reviews. The continuing
controversy over the massive construction project is one of the major reasons
that Congress has not passed an authorization bill for new Corps civil works
projects since Dr. Sweeney went public about the lack of integrity in Corps

“Authorizing this project signals that cheaters win if they just wait
for the heat to die down,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, whose
organization represented Dr. Sweeney. “As this saga amply demonstrates,
Congress is certainly not a fact-based institution.”

Dr. Sweeney had advocated that the Corps explore lower cost, small-scale alternatives
before committing to high-dollar cost lock expansion. The legislation moving
through both houses of Congress pays only lip service to other alternatives
while new lock construction races forward. The bills’ sponsors also resist
any reforms that would require an independent review and confirmation of the
validity of Corps studies.

“Propelled by the politics of pork, Congress can be counted on to pour
billions into horse-and-buggy responses to space age problems,” Ruch concluded,
noting that based on the Corps’ own numbers that the Upper Mississippi
project will return less than a nickel on every federal dollar spent.


at declining congestion on the Upper Mississippi

the continuing slide in barge traffic

how the upper Mississippi will return less than a nickel on each tax dollar

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