first_imgShare Facebook Twitter Google + LinkedIn Pinterest Transportation infrastructure has long been a priority of U.S. agriculture and President Donald Trump pledged to address the longstanding issue in a visit to Cincinnati on June 7.“It’s time to recapture our legacy as a nation of builders, and to create new lanes of travel, commerce, and discovery,” President Trump said at a speech in Cincinnati on the Ohio River.On hand at the event was Mike Steenhoek, executive director of the Soy Transportation Coalition who was asked to lend some expertise to the effort. He was pleased with the president’s interest in the topic.“We were very appreciative, No. 1 that the president even talked about infrastructure, No. 2 that he was talking about the inland water system and No. 3 that he really made sure to drive home the message about the connectivity between agriculture and this critical mode of transportation,” Steenhoek said. “The U.S is increasingly a spending nation not an investing nation — there is a big difference between the two. We’ve been unwilling to make the kinds of allocations of resources for future benefit and that is what is required to have a viable infrastructure. Certainly with our inland waterway structure you can see the results of that mentality with the dilapidated locks and dams. You don’t have to be a professional engineer to go to some of these sites and conclude that it is not if there is going to be a failure, but when.”Of course, inland water transportation is of vital importance to agricultural export markets.“This is a major issue for agriculture and other industries that rely on the system,” Steenhoek said. “We rely on that to access our international markets and we need to do a lot of work to upgrade the systems. It starts with an investment mentality.”Inland waterways are also vital to the U.S. as a whole due to the reduction of traffic on congested roads and railways with use of barge transportation.“We want to continue this work to get something done on this issue. There is a lot of work that remains to take an aspiration and turn it into an outcome. We need more funding and we need just as much predictability of funding,” Steenhoek said. “If you are building very expensive project that takes years to complete, you need reliability of funding provided by Congress and the Administration so that you can start work and complete it on time within the budget. The piecemeal way we provide funding is a recipe for cost overruns and project delays.”The Cincinnati announcement was a great step in the right direction for infrastructure improvements. The next steps include determining the viability and suitability of private/public partnerships for these kinds of projects, prioritizing the project needs, and finding the extensive funding.“It remains to be seen how the President intends to provide $200 billion in federal funding and design a system that generates an additional $800 billion in private equity to address our transportation challenges. Both are ambitious amounts,” Steenhoek said. “To provide some context, the Highway Trust Fund  — the funds generated via the federal gasoline and diesel tax every time a motorist fills his or her tank — generates approximately $35 billion each year.”Such a large investment, in an arena of stiff competition for federal dollars, will be challenging politically.“A concern that I and so many others have on this issue and a host of others is whether all of the political oxygen will get sucked out of the room due to all the time and energy being devoted elsewhere. Regardless of one’s political persuasion, it continues to be discouraging that the long ‘to do list’ on behalf of the American people continues to be insufficiently addressed,” he said. “But any time a president talks about the inland water system, that should be really encouraging. I think agriculture needs to stand ready and willing to be of assistance and maybe we can move the needle in the future.”last_img

Trump pledges prioritizing transportation infrastructure

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