As our antiquated maritime infrastructure crumbles and waits, like a dry and twisted old sponge ready to slowly soak up whatever funding ultimately trickles out of the federal spigot, I wonder if it will amount to any more than the usual practice of continued insufficient and deferred maintenance, followed by immediate crisis management.

In particular, our critical but perennially underappreciated inland waterways have suffered profound neglect for many decades. But there is reason to have some modest hope that things may be improving (at least slightly) as the replacement, repair and upgrading of some of our nation’s most dilapidated locks are finally receiving some significant funding. In particular the Great Lake’s crucial Soo Locks (located on the St. Marys River, the only water connection between Lake Superior and the other Great Lakes) has finally received full funding from Congress to complete repairs and a new lock. Despite their national importance, there hasn’t been any notable attention paid to the Soo Locks complex since before the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald in November 1975.

These are examples of the visible and tangible infrastructure of waterborne transportation and commerce. People can see it, and there is at least a slight chance that the citizens that rely on it may possibly reach some level of understanding and appreciation of them. Typically, however, most infrastructure gets taken for granted until it fails, and people are surprised to find out that the infrastructure fairy wasn’t taking care of everything for us while everyone was gaming or watching Netflix. Congress’s attention span isn’t much better, driven by election cycles rather than actual need, let alone a sense of duty.

Which brings me to the crucial but invisible infrastructure that makes virtually every single aspect of modern transportation (as well as telecommunications, commerce, financial transactions, and everything else we do) possible. It’s almost impossible to overstate its importance. It’s equally impossible to attract much attention to it. Finally, it’s impossibly impressive to witness how every relevant branch and level of government, decade after decade, has managed to kick that can down the road with great of ease.

Joel Milton works on towing vessels. He can be reached at [email protected].