Work is inching along toward an agreement on a major legislative package that could help modernize Peoria’s lock and dam, updating the 75-year-old structure for the first time in a quarter-century.
Area lawmakers said Wednesday on Capitol Hill that it’s crucial for the House and Senate to work out their differences — mainly price — on the Water Resources and Development Act and get a bill in place.
“We know we have $60 billion of backlogged needs in the lock and dam system,” U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos said in her Capitol Hill office as she described the negotiations she’s involved with as a member of the joint House-Senate committee.
Agreeing to a fix, the East Moline Democrat said, stabilizes a transportation network that needs it, and also can be an economic engine in other ways.
“It will create jobs,” she said. “Construction jobs, engineering jobs, good jobs,” including in the region where the Peoria site — actually located in Creve Coeur — last saw renovation in 1990 after having been built in 1939.
Statewide organizations including the Illinois Corn Growers Association have long advocated for improvements to the lock and dam network.
“The crumbling lock and dam system costs Illinois corn farmers every day in lost efficiency getting their product to the global marketplace,” the group has said.
Meanwhile, last year the local director of the Illinois Soybean Association, Rob Shaffer, noted that the smooth running of locks and dams help keep area farmers competitive in a global marketplace.
“It takes (South America) a dollar a bushel to transport their beans to the ports,” Shaffer said. “It takes us about 20 cents. As long as we have the waterways, we’re sitting pretty good.”
But it hasn’t been an issue that’s gripped the general public.
“Unfortunately, a lot of folks in Illinois don’t realize how important it is,” U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Channahon, said Wednesday.
While U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock has previously called fixes to the locks and dams critical for agriculture shipping in the region, he said Wednesday that that’s just one portion of the problem facing the river transportation system.
“Failure of a lock in the system would mean more than just corn and wheat not getting to world customers,” the Peoria Republican said. “Half the jet fuel burned at O’Hare (International) Airport goes up the river systems. So you can imagine all kinds of calamities if a lock broke and barges couldn’t get up the river.”
Both House and Senate have passed measures that differ in terms of how much money will be spent, and the negotiations now are essentially over how much cash will be put into the fixes.
“The concern is that … we can’t have it come back significantly more expensive or it’s not going to pass,” Bustos said.