Bill aims to expand, modernize locks and dams on Mississippi, Illinois rivers

March 14, 2013

Online Staff Report

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., and U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill., introduced bipartisan, bicameral legislation March 14 to improve the nation’s water infrastructure — including locks and dams along the Mississippi and Illinois rivers — through public-private partnerships that would expedite projects and save taxpayers money.

The Water Infrastructure Now Public-Private Partnership Act would create a pilot program to explore agreements between the Army Corps of Engineers and private entities as alternatives to traditional financing, planning, design and construction models. The Army Corps of Engineers estimates a $60 billion backlog of outstanding projects that would take decades to complete without outside investment.

Over five years ago, I worked with my colleagues to authorize a program to ensure safer, more reliable and more efficient navigation along the Mississippi and Illinois rivers by expanding and modernizing the locks and dams,” said Durbin. “Unfortunately, the first benefits of this modernization won’t be felt until 2047 — and that was the prediction before sequestration. It’s clear we need a new model — one that speeds up the process of planning and constructing projects and brings to the table greater private investment. Our bipartisan bill will provide a new way to upgrade and maintain our water infrastructure investments, even as we face severe fiscal constraints in Washington.”

Kirk added: “The Illinois and Mississippi rivers are the lifeblood of the Midwest’s economic engine. At a time when the Army Corps of Engineers is facing severe funding shortfalls and a growing backlog of authorized projects, we need to explore new ways to bring private support to our public assets. This legislation allows important lock and dam and flood control projects the opportunity to engage in a public-private agreement for project management, keeping costs down and speeding construction. I am a strong supporter of innovative financing and project delivery in infrastructure, and look forward to the public-private partnerships that will result from this effort.”

Bustos said: “The Mississippi and Illinois rivers are absolutely critical to the economic well-being of our region. That is why action must be taken to expand and modernize the locks and dams that help transport our goods and products world-wide. By encouraging public-private partnerships, our bipartisan bill will expedite the planning and construction of projects that will make the movement of the high-quality goods of our region — whether they be from Caterpillar, John Deere or the numerous farmers and manufacturers that call Illinois home — more swift, efficient and safe.”

Davis said: “In government, we need to be innovative and learn how to do more with less, which is why I’m such a strong supporter of public-private partnerships. This bipartisan, bicameral legislation will help us to fulfill our responsibility to invest in our nation’s infrastructure, and by upgrading our locks and dams, we can ensure that the Mississippi River and other Illinois waterways will be reliable arteries to move goods and services for years to come.”

The Water Infrastructure Now Public-Private Partnership Act would authorize a pilot program for five years that would identify up to 15 previously authorized navigation, flood damage reduction, and hurricane and storm damage reduction projects for participation.

For the projects that are chosen for participation, the Army Corps of Engineers and private entities would enter into innovative new agreements to decentralize the planning, design and construction processes in an effort to speed up project delivery while maintaining safety. Additionally, these agreements could bring more private investment in water infrastructure projects.

To ensure accountability and transparency, the Water Infrastructure Now Public-Private Partnership Act would require an audit of activities by the private entities. To protect public investment, the legislation would require a non-interested third party to complete a study — within 90 days — to determine whether a proposed agreement provides a better public and financial benefit than the current system. The legislation does not allow privatization of any federal asset.

Posted March 14, 2013

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