Washington, DC -- Upper Mississippi River barge traffic has declined again in 2003, continuing a fifteen-year old trend of stagnation, according to the latest U.S. Army Corps of Engineers figures released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The Corps data shows large, cumulative decreases in barge traffic at nearly all locks, with the most heavily utilized locks exhibiting fully a one-quarter reduction in traffic.
The Corps is now on the verge of revealing its draft recommendation regarding replacement of the existing river locks on the Upper Mississippi River and Illinois Waterway with new locks designed to accommodate future growth in barge traffic. The price tag on this project is an estimated $2.3 billion, and with an even greater amount of "environmental restoration" spending currently estimated at $5.3 billion, makes this overall $7.6 billion package the second most expensive public works project in Corps history (second only to the $8 billion Everglades Restoration).
In sharp contrast with the established history of declining traffic, the Corps has embraced wildly optimistic traffic forecasts in their continuing attempt to justify this project. These Corps forecasts form the foundation of their new economic analyses that were recently sharply criticized this past December by a National Academies of Science panel commissioned to review the latest Corps study.
"With each passing month, the Corps forecasts veer farther and farther from reality," stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch whose organization is suing the Corps over these fraudulent estimates and unreliable economic models used in the agency's controversial $70 million study to justify lock construction. PEER also points to other economic factors such as a continuing barge industry consolidation, the near end of commercial barging on the Missouri River and new value-added uses for grain production, such as ethanol, that do not require shipment down the river to New Orleans as contributing factors that will extend the traffic slump through the next decade
"Right now, the Corps is thrashing around to find any way to justify this mega-project that passes the straight face test," Ruch added.