Waterways Council, Inc. (WCI) is the only organization that advocates for a modern, efficient and well-maintained system of inland waterways infrastructure. WCI educates policy-makers in the national’s capital and around the nation, in the news media, and the general public about the waterways systems’ critical importance. With aging locks and dams built in the 1920s and during the New Deal of the 1930s, it is time to address these structures to continue to reliably serve current and future needs in the nation’s transportation supply chain.
With more than 30 years of federal government expertise, Mike Toohey serves as WCI’s President and CEO and joined the association in August 2011. Prior to joining WCI, he served as Consultant with The Livingston Group’s Transportation, Shipbuilding, Shipping and Ports practice area.
President George H. W. Bush nominated Mr. Toohey as Assistant Secretary of Transportation, where he served from 1992 to 1993 following confirmation by the United States Senate. Mr. Toohey also served as Staff Director for the Republican Staff of the Committee on Public Works and Transportation, and the Committee on Merchant Marine and Fisheries during his 14-year tenure with the U.S. House of Representatives.
Waterways Council: Advocating for the Fourth “R”
We look at the transportation system as encumbering four R’s: roads, runways, rails, and rivers…We’re an advocate for a modern, efficient, reliable inland waterway transportation system. It’s a 12,000-mile system of both open-water and lock-and-dam-controlled waterways, moving about 600 million tons a year at a value of $232 billion dollars. We move 60% of the nation’s grain for example. So it’s a very important part of the supply chain, and we’re the advocate for keeping it open and reliable.
We Need Leadership to Push for Infrastructure
When things are working well, like our waterways, there’s no focus on them. And so people don’t understand how important they are to deliver the inputs that are needed for manufacturing, for electricity, for gasoline delivery. This is the safest mode and the most efficient mode for moving traffic. But because it functions so well, nobody pays attention to it unless elected officials bring focus and say, “We need more investment in infrastructure,” like the President has, and then motivates Congress to respond to this.
Bringing the Right Kind of Attention to Inland Waterways
We’re trying to use alternatives to buying expensive television time to get our message out. And then the other is we conduct editorial board visits to try to educate the media, the print media, about the importance of the waterways. And we go to those locations that have waterways, and bring in people from the local area to talk about the importance of the waterways to the local economy. Then some of our stakeholders like the Ag industry which is trying to grow the family farm economy through exports—and that is primarily through exports delivered by waterway because of the cost savings—they are our best advocates in trying to educate people.
Our Waterways Work, but Updates Are Needed
Our forefathers invested in the inland waterways system. They had a great vision, and while the projects had a 50-year design life, we’re still operating many of the original projects. And as a result, we’re keeping them going but they’re not as efficient as we could be…The system is dependable, but if we continue to not invest in the system, it will at some point reach a state of unreliability. We are not there, therefore we are not in a crisis, and we now have a program underway to modernize the system over the next 20 to 25 years.