Washington, DC — Demand for water transportation on the Mississippi River and Illinois Waterway continues to languish, according to an analysis by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) of recently released Army Corps of Engineers data.
The new figures, supplied by the barge industry and compiled by the Corps, show no growth or slight reductions in commodities shipped on the rivers during 2000. Preliminary figures for the first ten months of 2001 show another five percent drop in tonnage. These declines continue a historic trend of reduced demand for barge traffic on the rivers.
The barge industry has signaled that it intends to seek Congressional authorization this spring for expensive new locks for the Upper Mississippi River and Illinois Waterway System. Industry is targeting the Water Resources Development Act of 2002 as the vehicle for this one-and-a-half billion dollar undertaking despite the fact that the Corps will only have prepared an interim report without required analyses of benefits versus costs or environmental effects.
“Why should the taxpayers pay for expanding this project when the demand is falling?” asked PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. PEER represents Corps employees who have raised questions about the need for the project. Last year, the Army validated charges by Corps whistleblowers and disciplined top Corps commanders who had manipulated internal studies. “TheCorps’s forecasts have consistently overestimated barge traffic, not only on the Mississippi River but throughout the entire inland navigation system.”
At the same time, detailed lock usage data maintained by the Corps and traditionally released in mid-summer is still unavailable.
“The rhetoric about this project being vital for the economic health of the Midwest does not match reality,” concluded Ruch. “This project continues to proceed on pure boosterism and political pork barreling.”
Speadsheets featuring new traffic numbers are available upon request and are posted on the PEER website.