EAST ALTON — Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue visited the Melvin Price Locks and Dam facility while in Illinois on Tuesday.
He toured the newer facility and promoted infrastructure investment in the Mississippi River system.
“We’ve got a 1,200-foot lock and dam where the barges can come down and don’t have to unhook and unlatch, which is an hours-long process,” Perdue said, following the tour.
The Melvin Price facility is modern, but locks and dams farther up the river are older and need improvement, he explained.
They cannot accommodate larger barges, and that leads to many delays and higher costs, said Rickey Dale James, assistant secretary of the Army for Civil Works.
“If that tow boat is standing there and not moving up or down the river, it costs money,” he said.
In 2017, 53% of vessels were delayed on the Mississippi River, according to a new report from the USDA. It was only 20% in 2000, when there were nearly twice as many vessels on the river.
The report also lays out different scenarios for river traffic depending on how much money is invested in infrastructure and the timing.
Perdue said he wants to bolster the river as a robust shipping lane, and the USDA report shows that is possible.
“Grain buyers worldwide look at price and quality,” he said. “We’ve got the best quality. If we have the best price, those markets will come to us.”
Upgraded infrastructure can also lead to better resilience after flooding events, James said.
Perdue said the next step is persuading Congress to fund infrastructure projects in the river system. He added that the report from the USDA quantifies a clear return on that investment.
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