U.S. Senator Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) praised the Senate's unanimous approval today of an amendment that would authorize a public-private partnership program designed to modernize the nation's lock and dam infrastructure. The amendment to the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), S. 601, increases the number of projects eligible for the public-private partnership pilot program to 15, includes projects that to date have received no federal funding and allows the Army Corps of Engineers and private entities to explore innovations in project delivery -- speeding construction and reducing costs. Without outside involvement, the Army Corps of Engineers has estimated that its backlog of $60 billion in construction projects will take decades to complete. The current version of WRDA is estimated to cost roughly half what was authorized in the 2007 bill.
"According to the American Waterway Operators, the Mississippi River alone transports 60 percent of our grain, more than 20 percent of our oil and gas and 20 percent of our nation's coal," said Senator Kirk. "We cannot afford to let our critical infrastructure age and restrain business opportunities for development and growth. Current lock delays along the Mississippi River average 4.5 hours. As a longtime supporter of innovative private financing to successfully deliver public goods, I look forward to seeing the public-private partnership investments move forward in order to maximize efficiency and minimize taxpayer costs, particularly as the Panama Canal expansion project nears completion."
Earlier this year, Senators Kirk and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), along with U.S. Representatives Rodney Davis (R-Ill.) and Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.) introduced a bipartisan, bicameral measure titled the Water Infrastructure Now Public-Private Partnership Act, similar to the WRDA amendment, which includes the same pilot programs for 15 previously authorized navigation, flood and storm projects. More information about the bill can be found here.
In a trip to Illinois last week, Senator Kirk discussed with his Agriculture Advisory Board the need to upgrade the nation's water infrastructure to accommodate the increase in exports and shipping. Industry experts estimate that soybean exports will rise from 1.35 billion bushels in 2011 to 2.25 billion bushels by 2020. Under the measure's proposed pilot program, small locks like Lock 25 in Winfield, Missouri would be eligible for upgrades to better respond to increased shipping demands.