Topic: The Federal Role in Meeting the Infrastructure Needs of the Inland Waterway System and its Ports With Emphasis on the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System and the Tulsa Port of Catoosa
Testimony Before the Subcommittee on Transportation and Infrastructure
3:00 pm, Monday, July 23, 2001
Room 406, Dirksen Building, Washington, D. C.
By: Robert W. Portiss, Port Director, Tulsa Port of Catoosa
5350 Cimarron Road, Catoosa, Oklahoma 74015
Thank you Mr. Chairman,
My name is Robert W. Portiss. I am the port director for the Tulsa Port of Catoosa, a 2,500-acre inland, international seaport located about 10 miles northeast of the City of Tulsa in Rogers County, Oklahoma. I am employed by the City of Tulsa-Rogers County Port Authority, a public agency.
My employment with the Port began in 1973 as manager of traffic and sales, a position I held until the end of 1974 when I opted for land development experience in the private sector. I returned to the Port three years later and, following a series of promotions, was appointed port director, a position I have held since 1984.
Oklahoma began offering barge transportation in December 1970 when the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System was completed. This System begins at the confluence of the White and Mississippi Rivers located approximately 500 miles north of New Orleans on the Mississippi River, and extends 445 river miles through Arkansas and Oklahoma. Seventeen locks and dams permit barge freight to stair-step the 420-foot elevation change to reach our Port at the head of navigation.
Authorized by the River and Harbors Act of 1946, the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System cost $1.2 billion to build. This, in turn, has resulted in over $3.2 billion of non-federal public and private investment in Oklahoma and Arkansas, creating over 55,000 jobs. Freight handled on the system currently averages 12-million tons per year carried in 8,000 barges. This is the equivalent capacity of 120,000 rail cars or 500,000 trucks to carry the same amount of freight adding significant congestion to the already constrained rail and highway systems. Less trucks on our nation’s highways is welcomed by all of us because of less congestion, wear and tear on our roadways, and energy savings.
All of this was made possible by a joint venture offered to Arkansas and Oklahoma. The offer was simple – the Federal Government would build a waterway to Oklahoma if the five principal cities located along the system would each build a public port providing access to barge navigation.
Tulsa was one of those cities.
Their commitment delivered what I believe is the largest fully developed inland port complex in our country today. I know of no other port that has 2,500 acres of contiguous land area. This land and the initial infrastructure was paid for through a $21.2 general obligation bond issue by the citizens of the City of Tulsa and Rogers County. That seed money has since grown to over $45 million in public investment through reinvestment of income earned off the land, which incidentally is only leased to preserve access to low-cost water transportation, as promised, for future generations. That money, in turn, has already precipitated some $300 million in private investment generated by the 53 companies now located within the complex who currently employ 3,000 people. Obviously, the joint venture has worked well for our states and for the nation—at least thus far.
The future success of the System will depend, in great part, on whether Congress will continue to provide, maintain and operate our nation’s waterway infrastructure. The current outlook is not favorable. If the President’s budget recommendations are adopted, the critical maintenance backlog will more than double—from $415 million to $835 million. Locks and dams and other capital stock along our nation’s waterways are aging and severely deteriorating. As an example, over 44 percent of the inland waterway’s locks and dams are at least 50 years old. Many are undersized for modern commercial barge tows, which must then be broken up and reassembled at each lock. This results in delays, increasing operating costs, decreasing efficiency and causes safety and environmental concerns. It is estimated that nationwide, river traffic is delayed 550,000 hours annually, representing an estimated $385 million in increased operating costs borne by shippers, carriers, and ultimately, consumers. These delays, which are in the range of $250 to $350 per hour for a 15 barge tow, will become more severe as system traffic grows and as aging infrastructure increases maintenance and repair time.
Sadly, the current trend is to keep studying the problem rather than fixing it. As an example, the current study concerning the modernization of the Illinois and upper Miss has been underway for about 11 years at a cost of $54 million and yet, we are not closer to finalizing the study today then we were in 1990. All of this and more is set forth in the Marine Transportation System Survey and Analysis completed by the USDOT several years ago.
Favorable congressional action is also required at the local level. Montgomery Point Lock and Dam, which is currently being constructed in the entrance channel to the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System, is destined for shut down this year due to a probable severe shortfall in federal funding. The project needs $45 million for FY 2002, and to date the President and Congress have only allocated $25 million. This funding deficiency will reportedly force the Corps of Engineers to curtail construction pending funding in FY 2003. We therefore would not realize the benefits derived from the $152 million already spent on it and will increase the overall construction costs. Delaying this project could also shut down our waterway due to inadequate water depths for barges. We, of course, would then be out of the waterway business altogether.
Another item affecting our future is increasing the authorized depth of the McClellan-Kerr from 9 to 12 feet enabling us to operate at peak capacity. We believe this would significantly improve our nation’s competitive advantage in world markets. Being able to load barges more fully—approximately 100 truck loads rather than the current 60 truck loads—would lower the cost of products thereby enhancing our customer’s ability to compete in world trade. Rivers flowing to the Gulf Coast already have 12-foot channels.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has begun installing tow haulage equipment on our locks—all but five have been completed. This equipment locks through nine barges leaving the towboat and up to an additional eight barges to subsequently lock through thereby efficiently doubling the capacity of our locks without having to construct new structures. Federal funding for this important infrastructure project, like our lock and dam project, will reportedly be significantly reduced or curtailed for FY 2002.
Recent versions of TEA-21 or NEXTEA can help meet local infrastructure needs through funding of multi-modal connecting links to enable barge, rail, truck, and air transportation to work together in an optimal manner. To date, our efforts to obtain any of this funding have not been successful. The concept makes good sense, but for some reason it is not happening. Connecting rail lines and roads could be significantly improved through this program.
Before closing, I would be remiss in my duties if I did not mention the Endangered Species Act. If this Act is to be re-authorized, it simply must be done through needed reforms. The implementation of its provisions has resulted in projects being stopped permanently without regard to the social and economic good of our nation.
In conclusion, it is past time for Congress to take responsibility for providing the funds necessary to re-build, rehab, maintain and modernize our nation’s inland waterway navigation system. Our system has been the envy of the world for decades. Now the rest of the world is taking up the challenge with the realization that water is the only way to remove significant amounts of freight from the highways. U.S. inland waterway ports and terminals—about 1,800 of them—are less concentrated geographically than our deep-water ports thereby being able to provide almost limitless access points to barge transportation. The result is greater flexibility to the users in determining the location of industrial facilities requiring water access.
The congressional and state leaders MUST understand that maintaining a viable national inland waterway transportation system and protecting the environment are not mutually exclusive objectives. They can be accomplished by encouraging local and federal agencies to work together as in past years, thereby providing jobs and enabling us to effectively compete in the international market place. The alternative of abandoning the system that has permitted our nation to be strong, and which has proven to be a good federal investment, is clearly not in our best interest.