The United States’ 25,000 miles of inland waterways and 239 locks form the freight network’s “water highway.” This intricate system, operated and maintained by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, supports more than half a million jobs and delivers more than 600 million tons of cargo each year, about 14% of all domestic freight. Most locks and dams on the system are well beyond their 50-year design life, and nearly half of vessels experience delays. Investment in the waterways system has increased in recent years, but upgrades on the system still take decades to complete.
A unique component of the nation’s freight network, inland waterways are shared by only 38 states and are operated and maintained by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). The system includes a vast network of 25,000 miles of waterways and 239 locks used for commerce. The Atlantic Intercoastal Waterway serves ports along the East Coast, such as the Port of Virginia. In the Pacific Northwest, the waterway system leads to the Port of Seattle and other ports in the area.
Inland waterways construction and rehabilitation costs, including for locks, are shared by the federal government through general funds and by users through the Inland Waterways Trust Fund on a 50-50 basis. Operation and maintenance costs for inland waterways are covered in full by the federal government.
The USACE has moved to a risk aversion decision making process, to better prioritize which projects are addressed first. In addition, USACE released Technologies to Extend the Life of Existing Infrastructure, a first-of-its-kind best practices compilation on life cycle maintenance management, innovative technologies, and emerging capabilities that are happening at USACE locks and dams.
Raising the Grades
Solutions that Work Now
Give USACE contract authority for projects, to avoid the stop-and- start of construction currently happening because of the appropriations process.
Fund waterways projects at the authorized levels and do so consistently, passing a Water Resources Development Act on a two-year cycle.
Ensure that full use of the Inland Waterways Trust Fund continues to be appropriated, and increase the amount spent on operations and maintenance of the inland waterways each year.
Utilize alternative financing and delivery methods, such as public-private partnerships, when appropriate.
Develop and implement a standardized measurement for delays on the system.