Welcome to this afternoon's hearings as we consider the role of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in meeting the nation's water resource needs in the 21st Century. I thank our witnesses for agreeing to testify.
We have not had a WRDA Bill in four years. Despite distant editorial opinion to the contrary, citizens, communities, States and certainly members of the Senate see the value of what the Corps can do to provide safety, environmental protection and economic opportunity for our nation. As I have said before, every year, there is a referendum on the Corps, which we see in Energy and Water Appropriations. Here members from north, south, east and west - both Democrats and Republicans - request that the Corps provide assistance to those taxpayers out in the working world.
As with other missions that are widely supported, the demand for services exceeds the supply of money. Senators have requested projects which total more than a great deal - most for ecosystem restoration - and it is clear that while I am adamant that we will have a balanced and forward-looking bill to present to the Subcommittee and Committee, we may have to subject some of these projects to a diet.
In the Midwest, an essential item for WRDA 04, which is long overdue, must be authorization of new locks to replace the aging infrastructure on the Upper Mississippi River and Illinois Waterway. The feasibility study of navigation and environmental improvements has been ongoing since 1993 and has cost over $70 million. While our competitors invest to build, we study and study, and study. The construction time for this bipartisan effort to modernize locks is 15 years under optimistic forecasts. This means we are already at great risk of having a gridlocked navigation system before we get these projects in place.
USDA testified last week that transportation is often the determinant between markets won and markets lost and directly impacts our ability to compete and prosper. The Veteran Chief Economist at USDA testified that in 10 years, he expects corn exports to increase 44 percent - most of that through the Gulf. The world is rapidly changing, and the past will not be the future. Changes are occurring in South America, Europe and Asia, which suggest that we can either anticipate the challenge or surrender advantages at the expense of our producers. Our infrastructure is not ready for these emerging challenges and opportunities today. In 30 years, the outlook is far bleaker.
The Corps takes great pains doing what Congress requires of it, but Congress needs to do its job as well. Namely, we need to decide if Congress is going to focus on predicting the future, or shaping the future. We can passively respond to conditions or we can anticipate them and shape them. The Corps needs direction from us. I learned recently that the system on the Upper Mississippi, which handles over 60 percent of corn exports and almost one-half of bean exports may be eligible for nomination for the National Registry of Historic places. Is the world's greatest power going to look ahead 50 years and decide that it plans to compete with an inland transportation system that is an historical relic. We have to do better.
The bipartisan effort to modernize our aged system envisions a balance with capacity to permit long-term growth as well as ecosystem restoration. We can and should do both. Additionally, there will be proposals considered to address perceived problems in the study process. If these proposals assist the process, they will be welcomed. Those designed to delay and frustrate the process, particularly for poorer and less advantaged communities will not be welcome.
I look forward to hearing from our diverse group of witnesses and look forward to working with members of the Committee to fashion a balanced bipartisan bill.