Navigating the Needs of the Nation’s Inland Waterways System

February 9, 2021

Navigating the Needs of the Nation’s Inland Waterways System

Feb 9, 2021

Key Issues:Transportation and Infrastructure

Author: Julie Busse

This past summer and through the fall, many of the locks on the Illinois River underwent major rehabilitation projects upgrading the aging infrastructure. Still, more work is necessary to bring the nearly 12,000 miles of commercially navigable channels and 240 lock sites up-to-date.


Members of the Market Development Action Team (MDAT) and Risk Management and Transportation Action Team (RMTAT) had the opportunity to tour the construction sites last fall. The project on the Illinois River had a price tag totaling roughly $200 million. The locks and dams at LaGrange, Peoria, Starved Rock, Marseilles, and Dresden Island were the locations that underwent various construction projects.


Tracy Zea, President & CEO of the Waterways Council, Inc., joined NCGA to tour the construction of the locks and dams on the Illinois River. “We currently have 69 locks that are over 80 years old, and each lock is designed to last 50 years,” said Zea. “The upgrades are necessary because it allows our farmers to compete in the foreign marketplace.”


The inland waterways system is essential to getting U.S. corn to export, with more than 60 percent of the grain produced in the U.S. being transported by barge.


“This navigation industry serves many partners and stakeholders,” said Tom Heinold, Chief of Operations for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Rock Island District. “Ultimately, the economy of this nation runs on this river. We are in the middle of the world’s breadbasket, growing corn and soybeans. We have this amazing transportation system right through the middle of our nation where we are able to efficiently get that product up and down the river.”


Heinold went on to say how important partnerships are, especially those with the corn growers. “It’s partners like the corn growers that know the importance of this system for the economy and can see work like this and know the value of it and the return on investment. It’s our stakeholders that can help us argue for funding on projects just like this.”


The MDAT and RMTAT funded this project. You can view a series of new videos on the Illinois River rehabilitation project that includes interviews with Zea, Heinold and Illinois farmers Bill Leigh and Terry Smith and Colorado farmer Troy Schneider.