Washington, DC — The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plan to double the size of the lock system on the Upper Mississippi River and Illinois Waterway will be a huge money loser for the nation, returning less than a nickel on every federal dollar invested, according to an economic analysis released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). PEER also released the latest Corps lock usage data for 2004 that show both barge traffic and lock congestion continuing to decline precipitously, accelerating a now 13-year old trend.
U.S. Senator Kit Bond (R-MO) is leading a regional coalition of senators pushing this month for congressional authorization of the estimated $2.4 billion navigation project. Continuing decreases in barge traffic undercut the sponsors’ central claim that the project is needed for the economic health of the region.
“The rationale behind this boondoggle could be likened to saying that the way to increase traffic on a deserted freeway is to add more lanes,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, whose organization represents Corps economists who have criticized the cost-benefit studies the Corps is offering to justify the project. “This project is the equivalent of putting $2 billion on a barge and lighting it on fire.”
The latest year to date river traffic figures through the middle of May of 2004 show that barge traffic is off nearly 20% from last year’s depressed levels (see figures, below). This most recent decline follows on the heels of the historic 20% decline from the traffic levels when the study re-started four years ago.
Project proponents have cited lock delays resulting from traffic congestion on the river as the principal reason to expand lock sizes from the current 600 feet long locks to 1,200 feet long locks. Yet, the Corps figures through May of this year also reveal that total vessel delays are down between 29% and 50% from last year, meaning that the delay per vessel has decreased dramatically from last year to this year. These real figures dispel any assertion that congestion per vessel is a possible cause of the traffic decreases.
Even more, there is no change in lock availability (up-time) during the navigation season evidenced in the Corps year to date data from 2003 to 2004. This fact undercuts the Corps’ latest contention that “crumbling” or “limping along” infrastructure is the cause of the ongoing traffic declines.
Using the Corps’ own cost figures, the PEER economic analysis shows that the project would lose more than $180 million per year for the national economy under current and historic market conditions. “At a time of deepening fiscal crisis for our nation, the Upper Mississippi project represents precisely the type of destructive pork barrel money pit that we should be avoiding,” Ruch concluded.
Read the PEER economic analysis
View the latest traffic and congestion numbers from the Corps:
Barges Processed Year to Date through May 15th:
- Lock 2004 2003 Decrease in 2004 20 5839 7102 18% 21 5999 7388 19% 22 5993 7486 20% 24 6383 7818 18% 25 6407 7865 19%
Total Hours of Vessel Delay Year to Date through May 15th:
- Lock 2004 2003 Decrease in 2004 20 653 916 29% 21 520 1044 50% 22 953 1235 23% 24 949 1379 31% 25 936 1415 34%