The industries that depend on river transportation are pushing Congress to approve funds for lock and dam improvements. Some of the locks and dams in use on the Illinois, Mississippi and Ohio rivers were built in the 1930s, and they must be rebuilt or refurbished because of age, and widened for ease of navigation, says Todd Maisch of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce.
“Congress needs to step up, authorize the funding to go ahead and improve the vital waterways infrastructure that’s so important to the region,” he said at a news conference aboard the Linnea, a passenger ferry in the Chicago River.
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A specific list of Illinois projects that are needed, and an overall dollar amount, both nationally and for Illinois, has not been determined.
The barge industry proposes raising the diesel tax that they pay by six to nine cents a gallon – it’s currently 20 cents a gallon – to generate funds to get started on whatever work the Army Corps of Engineers deems necessary. U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Channahon) says his fellow Republicans may view that as a tax increase on business, and are therefore reluctant. “I think we have to have that grown-up conversation with everybody. The reality is you’re gonna have to fund interstates; you’re gonna have to fund waterways somehow,” he said. “How’s that gonna be?”
Kinzinger said many Republicans don’t need convincing, but some do.