US Army Corp of engineers_Lock on the Illinois river_photo cred US Army Corp of engineers
Dresden Lock and Dam on the Illinois River near Morris, Illinois, U.S. President Trump has pledged his support for upgrading the nation’s inland waterways.
Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. 
WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S. – U.S. President Donald J. Trump’s plan to improve the nation’s infrastructure, including inland waterways, is welcome news to agriculture groups that have been calling for upgrades for decades.

Trump said on June 7 that he has dedicated $200 billion of a $1 trillion investment plan to rebuild infrastructure. His plan includes grants to rural America to rebuild bridges, roads and waterways; grants to states and cities for infrastructure challenges; and loans for qualified projects, such as those created under the Transportation Finance and Innovation Act. He also said he would reduce permitting time for projects from 10 years to two years and slash regulations to speed up the decision-making process.

The National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) applauded Trump’s pledge, noting the importance of infrastructure to the nation’s farmers.

“Farmers rely on our national infrastructure every day to get our products to market quickly, safely, and efficiently,” said Ken Hartman, chairman of the NCGA’s market access team and a farmer from Waterloo, Illinois, U.S. “Waterways, roads, and bridges are central to farmers' efforts to feed and fuel the world, and we must invest in all of them.”

In his speech in Cincinnati, Ohio, U.S., Trump specifically called for upgrading the nation’s aging system of locks and dams — making him the first modern president to focus on this critical piece of the infrastructure puzzle.

“These critical corridors of commerce depend on a dilapidated system of locks and dams that is more than half a century old, and their condition … is in very, very bad shape,” Trump said. “It continues to decay.”

Nearly three-quarters of U.S. grain exports are transported to port via the U.S. river system. The inland waterways system provides the lowest-cost, most fuel-efficient and most environmentally friendly and sustainable way to transport grains, oilseeds and other agricultural products, according to the National Grain and Feed Association (NGFA).

Most of the nation’s locks and dams were built in the 1920s and 1930s and have outlived their intended 50-year lifespans. Locks and dams on the Upper Mississippi and Illinois waterways, in particular, are dilapidated, the NGFA said.

In the past decade, there has been a 700% increase in unscheduled work stoppages for repairs. The United States has fallen to 11th in infrastructure in the World Economic Forum’s most recent Global Competitiveness Report — that’s compared to seventh as recently as 2008.

“We especially appreciate the president's interest in inland waterways and in the unique infrastructure challenges facing rural areas,” Hartman said. “We look forward to working with the Trump administration to invest in our nation’s waterways, roads, and bridges, and we thank the president for making this issue a top priority.”

American Soybean Association (ASA) officials also said they appreciated Trump’s emphasis on the inland waterways system, which is often an overlooked aspect of the nation’s transportation infrastructure.

Upgrading the inland waterways infrastructure is a top priority for the ASA. Working with industry partners and policymakers, the ASA is actively supporting action on a major infrastructure initiative in 2017 that provides funding to address priority needs to modernize locks and dams and other vital infrastructure.

“We’ve long maintained that the quality of our infrastructure networks in the United States — road, rail, waterways and ports — is directly connected to the competitive advantage we have over other soybean producing countries," said Kendell Culp, ASA director and farmer in Rensselaer, Indiana, U.S.