President Trump’s Infrastructure Plan: Addressing the Mississippi River

12 July 2017 Jane Robinson, Research Assistant, Global Food and Water Crises Research Programme

Background

President Trump has proposed an infrastructure plan worth US$200 billion ($260 billion) that could be used to overhaul the US water transport system. The infrastructure plan aims to stimulate an increase in private investments, increasing funds to an estimated US$1 trillion ($1.3 trillion). Years of neglect and overuse of waterways and roads has been exposed as a critical issue and it has become clear that critical infrastructure has been underfunded for years. The Mississippi River is an integral part of getting Trump’s plan right. Other than being a major component of the future agricultural sector and trade industry, ten states border the major stem of the river and, of those states, Trump won eight in the presidential election. Trump won almost all of the 31 states that use the river to export goods. The success of Trump’s plan will likely have implications for his re-election. Although years away, making vast improvements to American infrastructure could be a major factor in Trump’s efforts to gain support in a volatile administration with few successes among its other key issues thus far.

Comment

There are abundant issues facing the Mississippi River and the problems are known on a national level. The issues were exposed after the Minneapolis I-35W Bridge collapse in 2007. There have been few improvements or investments on a federal government level since the incident that killed 13 people and injured 145. While the evaluation of bridges may well be essential to prevent further related incidents into the future, the issues lie further within the waterway system that stretches over 40,000 kilometres. Vessels travel the river carrying thousands of tons of grain, coal, and steel that are essential to the economic vitality of the US.

The revitalisation of the US economy will be integral as it overhauls its manufacturing and agricultural industries. Across the mainland waterways, it is essential that locks and dam systems are replaced. Trump has listed seven on a list of priorities that would allow 22 million tons of commodities to travel along the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers every year. A renewal was proposed in 2007, but has continued to be shelved because there has been no appropriation from Congress. While Trump may not be able to easily overcome that barrier, the importance of the issue cannot be overlooked. The funds are desperately required as many of the locks and dam systems along the river were built in the 1930s and have not been appropriately maintained, and problems such as leakage are affecting their full capacity.

While there are plenty of maintenance issues inland to address, a just as paramount issue exists where the Mississippi River meets the Gulf of Mexico. This shipping channel has over six thousand cargo ships that utilise it each year, exporting grain across the world. This trade is significant considering that 60 per cent of all grain exported from the US is shipped along the Mississippi River, transiting through the Port of New Orleans and the Port of South Louisiana. Both ports are crucial as bulk cargo ports in the world; depending on the measurement used, the Port of South Louisiana makes top ten lists of global ports (such as number six). The channel is often congested with mud and, while dredging it is a feasible solution, it has yet to occur as Congress refuses to disperse adequate funds. Dredging the Mississippi River is an issue that needs to be addressed inland, as well. When there is too much mud in parts of the river, cargo ships cannot carry as much cargo. Some ships are forced to reduce their load by up to five feet and, with each foot of cargo worth over US$1 million ($1.31 million), this can quickly add to reduced revenue. It is vital for Trump to invest in dredging the river as it is significantly affecting the success of America’s vital industries and could also result in companies being able to use larger ships along the route.

Trump’s infrastructure plans need to address both making the waterways deeper and improving the outdated locks and dam systems. The indication is that, if those improvements are made, Trump may be successful in delivering his promise to the American people: to revitalise American industry and create more jobs for Americans. If it fails, the US could be left out of the global agricultural race that could result in higher prices and, therefore, affect its competitiveness.

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