QUINCY — Patricia Pietravalle says the state of US infrastructure is better than a year ago.
“What we’ve had is so much pent-up infrastructure investment backlog,” said Pietravalle, senior director of the Strategic Infrastructure Performance Institute in Washington, DC. “Passing the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act in November 2021 is a positive step, but it is not enough. I don’t mean that we need to increase our national debt by spending more. What I mean is to be smart with this investment and get the private sector involved.”
Pietravalle delivered the lunch keynote address Friday afternoon as the Upper Mississippi, Illinois and Missouri Rivers Association concluded its annual meeting in Quincy.
Infrastructure projects, including those on inland waterways, must also be ‘smart’ to optimize the technology moving into what it has dubbed the fourth industrial revolution, leading to smart infrastructure and smart cities.
“The Mississippi, Illinois and Missouri rivers, these water systems, are so much the central nervous system of our economy, our supply chain,” Pietravalle said.
Infrastructure projects and their funding were a common theme as members of UMIMRA, Corn Belt Ports and the Corn Belt Association of Waterborne Commerce gathered to listen to a slew of speakers addressing issues ranging from a federal update to water-related laws and regulations filed to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers weather forecasts and district updates.
“We know our nation has fallen behind on some important structures – bridges, locks and dams. Especially now that supply bottlenecks and food prices are imminent, it is important to set up transport systems and make them efficient,” said UMIMRA Chairman Mike Klingner.
But stakeholder efforts over many years to support the navigation and ecosystem sustainability program are showing results.
“We are now actually able to build projects. Before it was design and study. Now it makes improvements important to everyone in the upper Mississippi Basin,” said NESP program manager Andrew Goodall.
First construction of a new 1,200-foot chamber at Lock and Dam 25 in Winfield, Missouri, will begin in spring 2023, Goodall said. Construction of environmental project, fish passage, at Lock and Dam to begin in two to three years 22.
“NESP is unique. It has the collective support of the navigation industry and ecosystem partnership,” Goodall said, with projects planned in each area. “This is a great start for NESP, but continued funding is required to be successful over the long term for the program and ultimately for Upper Mississippi,” Goodall said.
Klingner said partnering with the navigation industry and ports in the Corn Belt will be key to sustaining $200 million per year in NESP funding for additional projects.
With consistent funding, “we should be able to complete all the locks and dams within 15 years,” said Klingner. “They were all originally built in the 1930s in seven years. We should be able to modify them and have 1,200 foot locks built.”
The organization’s long-term goals include developing a comprehensive flood control plan for the Upper Mississippi and Illinois Rivers within the next 12 years, Klingner said, and working to make improvements by recognizing climate change — a significant increase in rainfall intensity, frequency, and amount of water.
“We have to keep working on it,” said Klingner. “It was just too slow. In today’s world, we should be able to move faster.”