Inland infrastructure system is broken

Raising three children doesn’t make me an expert on the mismanagement of funds, but I know it when I see it.

In the June issue of WorkBoat, Capt. Alan Bernstein, the owner of BB Riverboats and a monthly columnist for the magazine, laments in his latest “Captains Table” that the infrastructure on the U.S. inland waterways system is “crumbling before our eyes.” It’s not a startling revelation, since we have been watching it fall apart like the proverbial cheap suit for years.

As a man who has made his living on the rivers, and obviously loves what he does and where he does it, Capt. Bernstein’s frustration exemplified in the piece is almost palpable.

The answer to all waterways problems, of course, is money. Or is it?

In the April issue of WorkBoat, our Washington correspondent Pamela Glass took a look at the barge business. Her report contained a short story on the Olmsted Locks and Dam project on the Ohio River. Authorized in 1988 at a cost of $775 million, construction began in 1993, and the project is now estimated to be completed in 2027 — 22 years late and more than $2 billion over budget. How’s that for a cost overrun? Maybe it’s not the money that’s lacking, but the people put in charge of its use that’s the problem.

Also in the upcoming June issue of WorkBoat, Glass reports, “Projects authorized since 1986 have on average taken 20 years to finish and cost more than twice the authorized amount.”

There’s plenty of blame to go around — gaps in funding from Congress, poor construction management by the Corps of Engineers, too little financial responsibility coming from industry, and on it goes.

Now, industry and the Corps think they have the answer in the Capital Development Plan. CDP will prioritize projects and assure that they will be completed on time its proponents say.

So we’ve been under a system that doesn’t prioritize projects? Haven’t other inland honchos been sure they know how to bring a project in on time and on budget? Did the officials who began construction on the Olmsted, and the politicians who funded it piecemeal, say, “We’re sure going to be over budget and miss our completion date by a mile on this one”?

Inland infrastructure isn’t the only thing crumbling. The system in place to fix it is broken too.

About the author

Ken Hocke

Ken Hocke has been the senior editor of WorkBoat since 1999. He was the associate editor of WorkBoat from 1997 to 1999. Prior to that, he was the editor of the Daily Shipping Guide, a transportation daily in New Orleans. He has written for other publications including The Times-Picayune. He graduated from Louisiana State University with an arts and sciences degree, with a concentration in English, in 1978.

Leave A Reply

© Diversified Communications. All rights reserved.