6-cent hike in diesel boat fuel tax urged to fund waterway fix

SHARE 6-cent hike in diesel boat fuel tax urged to fund waterway fix
SHARE 6-cent hike in diesel boat fuel tax urged to fund waterway fix

To bankroll needed repairs to Illinois’ waterway system, two Illinois congressmen — one a Democrat, the other a Republican — voiced support Monday for a national 6 cent a gallon diesel fuel tax increase for commercial vessels.

U.S. Reps. Dan Lipinski, D-Ill., and Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., described Illinois’ lock, dam and waterway system as critical to moving goods, supporting Illinois jobs and reducing pollution at a news conference on the Chicago River aboard the Wendella boat “Linnea.”

The Army Corps of Engineers has contended that the Illinois system has more than $500 million in deferred maintenance, a new report on Illinois waterways indicated Monday.

Illinois can’t continue with a “wait until fail” policy to fix 80-year-old dams and locks, Lipinski said.

“Our infrastructure from the 1930s needs to be fixed so we keep the system efficient,’’ Lipinski said.

Even the Waterways Council supports boosting the current 20 cent per gallon tax on diesel for commercial vessels by 6 cents, as Illinois lock breakdowns are becoming more frequent and can leave incoming and outgoing goods stranded, council officials said. Such bills have stalled in the U.S. House and Senate so far.

Each additional penny of commercial vessel diesel tax produces $4.2 million in funding a year, said Paul Rohde of the Waterways Council. The tax would be poured into the Waterway Trust Fund, which covers half the construction tab of waterway system work, Rohde said. Federal funding would be needed to cover Illinois’ remaining needs, he said.

Talking about a tax increase with other congressmen is “not an easy conversation to have but we think we are making progress,’’ Kinzinger said. “A lot of folks represent areas that have waterways nowhere near them.’’

Monday’s report by the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, entitled “Illinois Waterways: A Crisis Continued,” contends the eight locks and dams in the Illinois waterway system are in “desperate need of repair.”

Sections of concrete at the LaGrange Lock and Dam in Versailles have tumbled into the lock chamber, the report noted. In 2011, a 280-foot section of the Lockport Lock wall collapsed into the river, the report said. The incident occurred while the lock was undergoing repairs.

The T.J. O’Brien Lock at the Calumet River entrance to Lake Michigan has a “very high” probability of mechanical or electrical failure, according to a 2012 report by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. If portions of it rupture or fail, the lock could be closed to navigation for 60 days, the Army Corps warned. Such a closure can clog up the entire system, officials said.

In bumper crop years, such as 2014 in Illinois, the state runs the risk of seeing “corn and soybeans rot out in the open if we do not have the capacity to expeditiously ship grain to the world’s markets,’’ the chamber report contended.

Illinois is the top soybean producer in the world, and a waterway system that allows Illinois to send soybeans by barge all the way to the Gulf of Mexico gives it a “competitive advantage” over No. 2 Brazil and No. 3 Argentina, said Paul Rasmussen Jr., of the Illinois Soybean Association.

Aaron Ozinga, president of Ozinga Materials, said that no city in the country is more efficient at bringing in goods than Chicago and “waterways are critical to that.”If Ozinga and other Chicago ready mix concrete manufacturers could not transport their ingredients by barge inside the city alone they would need 100,000 more truckloads a year to carry their goods and “that’s not something residents would want,” Ozinga said. “The emissions caused by those trucks are significant.”

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