State Sen. Sam McCann (R-Plainview) is no Carl Sandburg, but the senator whose district includes the confluence of the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers knows what the great poet knew. Sandburg called Chicago player with railroads and the nation's freight handler. McCann ups the ante. “I believe that if you were to overlay the air, rail, highway, waterway, and transit maps going through Illinois,” McCann said, “you would quickly realize that Illinois is, in fact, the crossroads not only of the nation, and, I would argue, not only of North America, but of the Western Hemisphere.”
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A pair of Senate committees met jointly to hear concerns about the lock-and-dam system, against the backdrop of the recently passed federal Water Resources Reform and Development Act. At least one environmentalist suggests the importance of the inland waterway is exaggerated. “They said by 2010 there would be between 110 and 120 million tons going through, “says Elliot Brinkman, water resources specialist for the Prairie Rivers Network. “It's half that today. So they missed their projection by half. We are still in that flat and falling condition, and it really hasn't changed.” The common thread when discussing the lock-and-dam system is that infrastructure built to last fifty years is now eighty years old.