MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Higher-capacity ports, expanded locks and dams and other infrastructure improvements are needed in the Mississippi River Watershed to allow its waterways to handle shipping demands caused by higher agriculture, oil and natural gas production and manage climate change effects, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers official said Tuesday.
Brig. Gen. Peter A. DeLuca, commander of the corps' Mississippi Valley Division, spoke Tuesday at a public meeting held on a corps vessel on the Mississippi River in Memphis. He called on federal, state and local governments — plus citizens groups, businesses and private entrepreneurs — to invest in updating existing infrastructure, and starting new projects.
In June, President Barack Obama signed a $12.3 billion water projects bill that finances 34 new projects over the next 10 years. Its price tag is half the amount of the last water projects bill seven years ago. Some conservative groups argued the bill contained unnecessary spending, but it had broad support from state and local officials and business groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. All of the projects were recommended by the corps.
Still, DeLuca said more investment is needed. He said the United States ranks about 143rd in the world in infrastructure investment, a statistic also cited by other sources. Meanwhile, over the past 20 years, total federal, state, and local investment in transportation has fallen as a share of gross domestic product, while population, congestion, and maintenance backlogs have increased, according to an analysis of transportation infrastructure investment released in July by the White House.
The American Society of Civil Engineers' 2013 Report Card for America's Infrastructure gave inland waterways a D-minus.
"My eyes are bleeding looking at the growth that we are forgoing right now because we are not yet investing at a level that will pay us back," DeLuca said at the meeting, which was part of a low-water inspection trip that included a stop in Caruthersville, Missouri, on Monday.
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