Washington, DC – The US Army Corps of Engineers has decided to completely abandon reliable traffic forecasting and economic models in order to “complete” its controversial $60 million study of the need to build a system of expanded locks on the Mississippi River and Illinois Waterway in a “timely manner,” according to agency documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
In early 2000, the Corps’ own economist responsible for the economics of the study, Dr. Donald Sweeney, disclosed that senior Corps commanders had cooked the books on this study in an attempt to obtain construction authorization in support of the Corps “Program Growth Initiative.”In what it bills as “important study decision points” in its now 11 year-old effort to justify a $1.5 billion investment in new, bigger locks, the Corps is –
Giving up all hope of producing reasonable forecasts of future barge traffic on the rivers. Instead, it will assign equal probabilities to all of its traffic planning scenarios. These scenarios, ranging from spiraling traffic increases to no growth, are from the same consultant who has twice previously failed to produce usable grain forecasts. Meanwhile, the latest Corps figures confirm a decade-long decline in barge traffic on these rivers;
Admitting that its 34-year old economic model (the Tow Cost Model) is inadequate and fails to accurately measure potential navigation benefits because, among other things, it cannot accurately gauge users’ willingness to pay or account for any other grain transportation option than direct export through Gulf ports. The Tow Cost Model has been condemned by both the National Academy of Sciences and, more recently, by the President’s Office of Management & Budget in its FY 04 budget presentation earlier this month; and
Embracing the same numbers Dr. Sweeney exposed as improper as the means to answer criticisms of the Tow Cost Model.
“These new memos demonstrate that the Corps is at it again, only this time they are cooking the books in plain sight,” commented PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, whose organization has represented Dr. Sweeney.”Since Dr. Sweeney’s disclosure the Corps has spent another $20 million on this study and even the Corps concedes that they still don’t have it right.”
The two Corps memoranda: Upper Mississippi River – Illinois Waterway (UMR-IWW) System Navigation Study Benefit Model Sensitivity Analysis and UMR-IWW Navigation Study, Scenario Probabilities are available on request and are posted at: