Republicans, Democrats To Reach Across The Aisle On Infrastructure

Ohio River barge
( John Hearth )

Next year Republicans will control the Senate, while Democrats the House—but will anything be accomplished? Industry experts say both parties need to find common ground to tout success, and infrastructure might be their golden ticket.

“It’s really one of those rare opportunities, perhaps the best opportunity to do something in a bipartisan manner,” Mike Steenhoek, executive director of the Soy Transportation Coalition told Clinton Griffiths on AgriTalk. “We think that it’s very encouraging when you hear both leader Pelosi and McConnell (on the Senate side), both identify infrastructure as one of those opportunities.”

Infrastructure has been an issue that seems to just keep getting put on the back burner, he adds. He thinks something will get done now—and ag needs to have a seat at the table.

“The temptation is for urban perspective to dominate and overwhelm, and while that’s important, we also need to talk about the challenges of moving freight, including agricultural freight,” Steenhoek said. “We are really keen on implementing dredging the lower Mississippi, a big launching point for the international marketplace that’ll make us so much more competitive; maintaining and improving our locks and dams; and allowing semis with a sixth axel to be loaded with 91,000 lbs. versus the traditional 80,000 lbs.”

Congress has already authorized investment in the Mississippi River but the challenge now is getting funds appropriated. It’ll cost $157 million to make the improvements needed along this inland waterway but that investment could yield significant returns for farmers.

“If [the funding] were to proceed, according to our analysis that would provide $461 million of additional revenue for soy farmers throughout the country annually because the supply chain is more efficient,” Steenhoek explained.

One reason for this is that basis is largely dependent on the transportation system and more efficiency in that system would improve profitability.

In addition, the Soy Transportation Coalition says improving road transportation needs to be a priority in Congressional discussions. The group says drivers need to have access to sixth axel, 91,000 lb. load options.

“It’s a very controversial issues, because people think heavier semis must mean it’s more dangerous or does more damage to the road,” Steenhoek said. “Sure, but what that addition axel provides is more breaking capacity and displaces the weight. So, it actually moderates both of those concerns.”

Finally, Steenhoek explained that locks and dams are finally getting attention and funding.

“A Water Resources Development Act passed in 2014, 2016 and was just recently signed into law by the president on Oct. 23,” he said. “We continue to have momentum moving forward on this, [but] there’s still a lot to be done. But we’ve also seen a 48% increase in funding for locks and dams—reason to celebrate, but again, the need is still very exorbitant.”