We write to express our support for the U.S. inland waterways, and request that you include public and private stakeholders from our waterway systems in your discussions and plans to improve our nation's infrastructure.
"As you are keenly aware, a strong infrastructure is essential to a strong U.S. economy and key to encouraging job growth and promoting commerce. We applaud your message on the needed improvements to U.S. infrastructure in both your inaugural address and your speech to the joint session of Congress, and we believe our inland waterways also serve as economic drivers and are vital parts of our nation's infrastructure.
"For example, the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System (MKARNS) opened as an official inland waterway system in 1971. The MKARNS originates at the Tulsa, Oklahoma Port of Catoosa, and runs through Oklahoma and Arkansas to the Mississippi River. In 2016, the MKARNS had more than 11.5 million tons of commerce traverse the system, totaling more than $4.6 billion. From 2007-2016 more than 114.4 million tons of commerce, totaling more $42.6 billion, traversed the system. Further, local, state, and federal stakeholders have been working together for years to find a solution to increase the depth of the MKARNS from nine to twelve feet, which could significantly expand the capacity for commerce on the system.
"According to the American Waterways Operators, a 15 barge tow can carry the equivalent of more than 200 rail cars and more than 1,000 semi-trucks. Further, barges can move one ton of cargo 616 miles per gallon of fuel, compared to 478 miles by rail and 150 miles by truck per gallon of fuel. These three modes of transportation complement and rely on each other to move commerce through our country, and the use of our inland waterways as economic highways helps to decrease road congestion and air pollution, and reduces stress on our nation's rails, roads, and highways.
"Unfortunately, the MKARNS is more than 45 years old, and its future use is at risk as there is currently more than a $100 million backlog in critical maintenance along the entire system. This includes locks, dams, and other important equipment that is deteriorating to dangerous levels. Critical maintenance is defined by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as having a 50% chance of failure in the next 5 years. The MKARNS is vital to the economies of Oklahoma and Arkansas, as well as to farmers in Kansas, and a critical failure on the system could result in it being shut down for months. Even a temporary shutdown of the system could put future use of the system at risk, as businesses would no longer see the MKARNS as reliable and would likely find other means to transport their goods.
"Due to these concerns, we respectfully request that you include the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and local users of the MKARNS in future meetings and discussions about improving our nation's infrastructure. Thank you for your consideration of our request, and please do not hesitate to reach out to us if you have any questions or concerns. We look forward to working with you on improving our nation's infrastructure and making America great again