The development of the steamboat resulted in the construction of locks and dams that were needed to ensure consistent and safe passage.

I am concerned about the deteriorating condition and long-term viability of the inland lock-and-dam system. My company operates primarily on the Ohio River, and I am acutely aware of the fragile nature of the locks and dams in my operating area. 

Too often, I receive an email about a lock problem somewhere on the system. I recognize that budgets are tight and the economy is still sluggish, but we must consider that many of the nation’s locks are between 50 and 60 years old. These lock and dams, like many of us pilothouse veterans, are not getting any younger. We need to pay attention to lock maintenance and must act decisively to ensure the ongoing health of our inland river transportation system. River commerce is dependent on these locks and dams. 

Clearly, this is about money, budgets and priorities. The message from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has consistently underscored the need to repair and improve the deteriorating locks and dams. But the funding is just not there to adequately address this growing problem. 

Action is needed now. Inland interests — shippers, passenger vessel and barge operators, the Corps and others — need to come together and press for the necessary funding. A solid step forward would be for the federal government to adopt the recommendations of the Inland Waterways Users Board to fund capital investment in river infrastructure.

If our inland river system becomes unreliable, then our economy and collective industries will suffer. If we think the price of fuel, chemicals, and other commodities are high now, wait until barge companies are forced to tell their customers that they cannot rely on the lock system to get the cargo to their final destinations. Passenger vessels could not travel between certain Midwest cities, affecting vessel operators and their employees, and river city economies.

Let’s dedicate ourselves to solving the aging lock and dam issue on our inland rivers once and for all.

A collection of stories from guest authors.