Waterways Work for America

Sep 16, 2013

America’s marine transportation system—our ports, waterways, locks, levees, and dams—is the hidden backbone of our nation’s vast freight network. Modernizing and maintaining that system is vital to our nation’s competitiveness and growth.

The system safely and efficiently transports hundreds of commodities such as petroleum, coal, industrial chemicals, building materials, and agricultural products to destinations in the United States. It also is a key conduit for trade, carrying products to deep water ports to be exported around the world. Each year, the system moves more than 553 million tons of freight, valued at $178 billion.

Maritime transportation is a critical part of our broader freight system. Freight transported by water is equivalent to 51 million truck trips each year. A single barge can move the same amount of freight as 16 large rail cars or 70 semitrailer trucks. Barge transport is also cost effective. A barge can go more than 600 miles with 1 ton of goods on just 1 gallon of fuel.

But, like much of America’s infrastructure, the maritime system can’t continue to flow smoothly and efficiently—or add value to our economy and jobs for our workers—if we don’t keep up our investments.  

Delays, congestion, and service interruptions caused by insufficient funding to modernize, maintain, and operate our system carry a heavy price for our economy. The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that without smart investments we could forfeit $700 billion in GDP by 2020. We could lose $270 billion in exports. Businesses could see their sales drop by $1.3 trillion. And we could shed 738,000 jobs from the workforce.  

Congress has an opportunity to prevent these devastating economic losses by passing the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), which would drive new strategic investment in our nation’s waterways. The legislation would also help protect land and development from flooding and promote projects that improve hydropower, water supply, ecosystem restoration, and recreational opportunities.  

WRDA was initially passed in 1986, and Congress intended the legislation to be reauthorized every two years to keep water development programs running and projects funded. Yet it’s been nearly six years since WRDA legislation has been passed. Without congressional action, critical new projects won’t get started, workers won’t be hired, and our system will fall further into a state of disrepair.

The U.S. Chamber will continue to pressure lawmakers to pass this legislation, which would strengthen America’s competitiveness and put a whole lot of people to work in a hurry.  

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