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Industry observers find silver lining in river bottleneck

Keywords: Tags  Mississippi River, metals transportation, American Waterways Operators, Sen. Robert P. Casey Jr.,

After months of chewing fingernails over bottlenecks on the Mississippi River, the Waterways Council and the American Waterways Operators (AWO) did find a silver lining.

“For the waterways industry, the almost around-the-clock coverage became an unexpected bonanza,” the council said. “Newspaper editorials and network anchors alike repeatedly emphasized the importance of barge transportation in moving the products of America’s farms, mills and mines to markets here and abroadÑin huge quantities at low rates, helping to keep our commodities competitive.”

AWO staff kept a list of reports and editorials in newspapers or on television, including directions for accessing each of them on the Internet. The list ran to more than 200 entries.

Another potential bright spot for the nation’s inland waterway system was congressional interest in the quest to “modernize inland waterways and ports, keep navigation channels open, improve project management and revitalize the Inland Waterways Trust Fund,” the Waterways Council said. With two separate bills already proposed to strengthen inland navigation infrastructure, Sen. Robert P. Casey Jr. (D., Pa.) in early March introduced comprehensive legislation to “make our waterways more effective and efficient.”

“It is no secret that our water transportation infrastructure is in dire need of modernization to keep pace with existing demand and sustain America’s economic competitiveness for the future,” AWO president and chief executive officer Thomas Allegretti said. “During the low-water crisis on the Mississippi River last fall, many Americans saw for the first time how critical our inland waterways are to American jobs, exports and economic health. Sen. Casey’s bill is a critical step toward ensuring the future reliability of the inland waterways infrastructure that is a vital part of our national transportation system.”

But even with increased moisture and a Herculean effort by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to keep the Mississippi River open, many in the transportation industry worry that the drought that ravaged the Midwest for the past two years is long from over.

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