You may not hear the legendary call of "mark twain" reverberating off the riverbanks as in the dreamy days of Tom Sawyer and his buddy Huckleberry Finn. However, Mid-America's rivers are commercially more viable than they seem, and for $9.5 billion, they could handle more than twice their current traffic by the year 2000.
That is the price tag indicated for the revitalization of Mid-America's inland waterway system, complete with related jobmaking construction programs, a substantial increase in the number of river ports, and untold energy savings.
In recent weeks this analysis and projection have been put before the congressional delegations from the 17 states involved with the United States Maritime Administration. The basis of the presentation was the agency's Mid-America ports study, which forecasts a modest average annual increase in waterway tonnage of 2.9 percent. This would bring the 440 million short tons of cargo carried in 1976 to a turn-of-the-century total of 900 million short tons. This projection does not include the additional growth of river traffif brought on by the present, and most certainly future, energy crunch.
Calling the waterways "our most fuel efficient means of transportation," the report highlights the $9.5 billion capital investment needed to avoid inundating and making obsolete the 1,200 existing port facilities studied.
It also called for the acquisition of 11,000 additional acres to be devoted to new port facilities, with modernized cargo assembly and loading equipment and another 100 miles of additional developed waterfront.
Alabama, Illinois, Louisiana, and Missouri are expected to gain the most in inland waterway traffic in the next 20 years. Arkansas, Minnesota, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin are high in expected percentage increases.
Most of the needed projects identified will require extensive state and private participation. Whether any of the proposals see the light of day will depend on the extent of federal funding and encouragement. The Maritime Administration presentation was intended to trigger an interest among the members of Congress concerned in proposing enabling legislation and a comprehensive financing plan.