Washington, DC — The new Bush administration budget concludes that the controversial and expensive plan for lock expansions on the Upper Mississippi River and Illinois Waterway is unnecessary, according to a review of the President’s Budget for Fiscal Year 2007 released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Instead of building bigger locks, the Bush administration would increase U.S. Army Corps of Engineers funding for maintaining and rehabilitating the existing structures.
In one key passage, the President’s Office of Management & Budget (OMB) declares that –
“The Corps periodically evaluates the condition of all of the lock and dam sites on the Upper Mississippi River and the Illinois Waterway, and has concluded that the existing locks can continue to process tows safely and reliably for the next 50 years or more, as long as we continue to invest prudently in their maintenance and rehabilitation. The Budget furthers this objective by funding four rehabilitation projects and boosting spending for maintenance.”
In addition, the Bush FY 07 budget eliminates any funding for continuing the preliminary design and engineering work to support the $2.3 billion lock expansion program. Unless reversed by Congress, President Bush’s decision would effectively shut down the project in its entirety.
“President Bush and his OMB are absolutely right that the Upper Mississippi locks expansion project is not needed, barge congestion is decreasing and the river is operating with fewer delays,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, whose organization represents Corps employees who have disclosed previous attempts by Corps management to manipulate study data in an effort to justify this project. “This formal opposition by the Bush administration may finally sound the death knell for this troubled project.”
Overall, Corps civil works funding would be slashed by a whopping 11.2% under the President’s budget. These proposed cuts mirror proposed reductions that have been made every year that George W. Bush has been in office. In past years, Congress has restored some of the cuts but, overall, the Corps non-emergency civil works budget has remained stagnant.
During the past six years, the Upper Mississippi lock expansion project has been steeped in controversy. Some of the sharpest criticism has come from the Army’s own Inspector General and three National Academies of Sciences reports rapping the Corps’ reliance on faulty economic models, unrealistic traffic forecasts, and continuing bias towards large-scale, expensive structural solutions that ignore inexpensive non-structural alternatives such as the scheduling of barge traffic.
“The Upper Mississippi locks project has come to symbolize pork barrel politics at its worst,” Ruch added. “The fact that Congress is still even considering this multi-billion dollar boondoggle shows that, despite stark fiscal realities, the ethic of ‘no pork left behind’ is alive and well.”
The continuing controversy over the Upper Mississippi lock expansion has contributed to a six-year impasse in Congressional attempts to pass any legislation authorizing new Corps construction projects. In this session, legislation to authorize the Upper Mississippi locks project and a slew of other construction is currently pending action on the floor of the U.S. Senate.