Hot Potato: Food for Thought
Where Did All the Money Go?
Inland Waterways
1997 July 02

Railroads are hit not only by subsidized road traffic but also by subsidized barge traffic. The most egregious example is the Tombigbee waterway in Alabama, which was finished in about 20 years ago at immense cost and is little used. The Army Corps of Engineers maintains a vast network of inland waterways. The considerable costs of this work are financed entirely by the federal government. The barges using these waterways even enjoy a special exemption from fuel taxes.

Some of these waterways, such as the Mississippi River, would still be economically viable if the barge operators had to pay for the maintenance of the waterway, but many others would not.

It is time the US decided to make a gradual shift to non-subsidized transportation. This would save billions of dollars a year and significantly lower the total cost of transporting goods in the US. There is no doubt that the truck and barge industries would be seriously harmed, but freight rail service would see considerable growth.

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