Foster tours waterways in Lemont
U.S. Rep. Bill Foster, D-Naperville, toured the waterways in Lemont on Friday to help plan transportation infrastructure and to get more federal dollars for it.
"This is an important part of the economy," he said.
Foster said Illinois loses about $40 billion annually because state residents pay about $20 billion more in federal taxes than the national average for residents in other states, and "also lose about $20 billion because we get a lot less back in federal spending" than national averages.
"I think this is the biggest single problem with Illinois financial troubles," he said. "There are very few problems in Springfield that can't be solved by $40 billion.
Foster supports legislation that regulates federal spending on a per-capita basis. He said large states, including Illinois, Texas, New York, California and Florida, receive about $85 per person per year, compared to small states, like Rhode Island, that receive $160 per person.
"It happens in all of the federal spending (areas)," Foster said. "Water transportation infrastructure is one of the areas we can even the books."
On a visit to Illinois Marine Towing, a barge-towing and fleeting service, Foster said leaders "can't really make a sensible plan for infrastructure," which includes trucking and trains, without looking at barges.
Foster talked about the intermodals in Elwood and Joliet and said "there (are) also plans to have a barge connection" in Joliet in the area of the proposed Houbolt Road bridge that "potentially will really represent an increase in container traffic on the river."
"Barges are the most environmentally safe and friendly mode of transportation of all," said Delbert Wilkins, president of Illinois Marine Towing. "Bar none."
One barge has the cargo capacity of 15 jumbo hopper rail cars and 58 large semitractor-trailers. Wilkins said that 1 ton of materials on a barge can travel 620 miles per gallon of fuel, compared to the same amount of materials on rail for 500 miles and on trucks for 25 miles.
Barges transport 35 to 40 million tons of cargo in the upper Illinois region, Wilkins said. Across trucking, barge and rail, the United States conducts 19 billion tons of commerce annually.
"We are a vital link to rail and trucking," Wilkins said of the barge industry. "No other country can compete with us."
Wilkins said that Illinois Marine Towing has about 195 total employees and serves about 30 major barge lines. Approximately 25 percent of the company's customers serve the agriculture industry.