The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers aims to spend a record $456 million on inland waterway construction projects this year and make major headway in addressing a backlog of infrastructure projects vital to shipping, including farm exports and inputs.

The plan pools money, some of which is from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, into four main infrastructure projects. Two of these — Chickamauga lock on the Tennessee River and the McClellan Kerr navigation system on the Arkansas River — should be funded to completion, allowing the Corps to turn its attention to 16 or so other major river system projects currently waiting to be funded, according to Waterways Council President and CEO Tracy Zea.

“We're starting to clear the way for new future projects, which is a major win,” Zea said.

Overall, the plan lays out funding plans for 284 projects and studies, according to the Corps. It includes a total of $827 million for commercial navigation, $23 million for flood management, $18 million for environmental infrastructure and $128 million for other authorized project purposes.

“The FY 2024 Work Plan for Army Civil Works continues this administration’s ongoing commitment to fund crucial infrastructure projects and build resilience in a changing climate,” Michael Connor, assistant secretary of the Army for civil works, said in a news release. “Its investments in our coastal ports and inland waterways will strengthen the economy and help maintain our farmers’ competitive advantage in the global marketplace.”

The Corps is pooling $236.8 million into replacing an 84-year-old lock at Chickamauga Dam on the Tennessee River near Chattanooga, Tennessee. When the project is complete, it will allow up to nine barges through the lock at one time, rather than one, says a Corps press release.

The agency is also putting $103 million into deepening the McClellan Kerr navigation system, a 445-mile waterway that stretches from Northeastern Oklahoma to the point in Arkansas where the Mississippi and Arkansas rivers meet. It’s an important waterway for Southern Plains grain and soybean shipping, making it possible to move goods from the Port of Catoosa near Tulsa, said Mike Steenhoek, executive director of the Soy Transportation Coalition.

The Lower Monongahela River project, located in Southwestern Pennsylvania, will receive $41 million in upgrades. Another $75 million is slated for new 1,200-foot lock and mooring cells (river-based structures vessels use to anchor temporarily) on the Illinois River near LaGrange, Illinois.

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Zea_Open_Mic_Thumb.jpgTracy Zea, Waterways CouncilNotably, it should also complete construction work on Melvin Price Lock and Dam, an important Mississippi River project for agricultural shippers, according to the press release.

These projects will be funded by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law without matching funds from the Inland Waterways Trust Fund, which pays for construction and major rehabilitation projects on inland waterways using a 29 cent-per-gallon per gallon diesel tax on shippers. This should save $160 million from the IWTF for future use, the Waterways Council says.

“The long-term implications of that for agriculture shipping will be felt for many, many years,” Zea told Agri-Pulse. “Because that additional $160 million, that could be spent next year, the year after that, or any years following.”

The plan would make progress on other vital waterway projects. The Sault Sainte Marie (Soo Locks) in Michigan, an important part of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway supply chain, are to get $257 million for enhancements and $13.6 million will build jetties at the mouth of the Columbia River in Washington state. Texas's Houston Ship Channel will see $24.8 million. 

Steenhoek also lauded the inclusion of $368 million in funding for the Mississippi River and tributaries program, which he said is essential to funding dredging and repairs to dikes and revetments. He likened such maintenance to addressing “the river equivalent of potholes.”

Mike SteenhoekMike Steenhoek, Soy Transportation Coalition

The Mississippi River, he added, is the No. 1 “launching point” for U.S. corn and soybean exports.

“A lot of these things that are not exciting on the surface, those are the things that really contribute to whether or not we've got this very efficient maritime highway country that can move product that’s grown in the middle of the country to our gulf region, where it's then disseminated into the international marketplace,” Steehnoek told Agri-Pulse.

In addition to $268 million for the Mississippi River and tributaries program, $10 million will be put toward Mississippi River dredging, according to the Waterways Council. Seven Mississippi River states will see $21.4 million for dredging. 

Baton Rouge Harbor in Louisiana will see $564,000 for upkeep through the Mississippi River and tributaries program. reenville Harbor in Mississippi will receive $1.2 million. Vicksburg Harbor in Mississippi will get $1.2 million and Memphis Harbor in Tennessee $2.4 million. 

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