Over the course of my lifetime, I’ve experienced the world through many different lenses: as a father, grandfather, small business owner, U.S. Marine and commercial airline pilot. Now as a freshman Congressman, I have the privilege of adding a new lens to my perspective. These first few months in Congress have enabled me to understand the broad scope of even the most complex legislation.
A comprehensive infrastructure overhaul has been part of the political landscape for decades. Politicians have pounded their chests about this issue for years, so far without significant results. Today, we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to take action and get the work of the people accomplished. Just talking is no longer an option. An excellent next step toward restoring American pride and American jobs is to take action to rebuild our national infrastructure system. Long-term bureaucratic inaction is in part why many Americans voted to elect President Donald Trump.
Infrastructure is no longer considered just “roads and bridges” — it is much more complex than that. A comprehensive 21st century infrastructure package must include more than roads and bridges. Railways, locks, waterways, broadband and interstate electrical grids are all areas that top the list of infrastructure needs around our country, especially in Michigan’s 1st Congressional District.
Did you know that one of the most vital pieces of our nation’s economic and defense infrastructure is located in the northeast corner of Chippewa County in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula?
Situated on the southeastern shore of Lake Superior is a critical part of our nation’s infrastructure known as the Soo Locks. The first Soo Lock was constructed in 1855. Less than 30 vessels navigated the channel in its first year of operation. Today, there are four locks in this Canadian border town that we Michiganders call “The Soo.” Due to age and disrepair, only two of the four locks are operable — the Poe and MacArthur Locks.
Up to 10,000 ships per shipping season navigate these two locks. In fact, over 70 percent of U.S. vessels rely solely on just the Poe Lock to make their way through the Great Lakes and St. Mary’s River. During shipping season, the Poe Lock alone handles an average of 12 freighters per day. Since 1969, there have been various upgrades and repairs done to the Poe Lock in an effort to keep it fully functional.
The following details are grim: According to a study released by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in 2015 that referenced the effects of unexpected Soo Locks closures, “Depending on what time of year the closure occurred, approximately 75 percent of the U.S. integrated steel production would cease within 26 weeks after the closure of the Poe Lock. Approximately 80 percent of iron ore mining operations, and nearly 100 percent of the North American appliances, automobile, construction equipment, farm equipment, mining equipment, and railcar production would shut down.” The DHS study also concludes that if there were a lock closure, Michigan’s unemployment rate could reach 22.6 percent, Indiana’s 22.0 percent, Ohio’s 17.2 percent, Illinois’ 14.0 percent, Wisconsin’s 12.7 percent, Pennsylvania’s 11.2 percent, New York’s 9.9 percent and Minnesota’s 9.6 percent. The results would plummet our nation’s economy into a deeper recession than we experienced during the Great Recession in 2008.
Members of Congress from across the country and across the political spectrum have come together in support of the Soo Locks. And I have authored legislation, the Soo Locks Modernization Act (H.R. 2806), to authorize construction of a new Poe-sized lock. Additionally, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is in the process of conducting an updated economic study to conclude by the end of 2017.
We, the American people, can no longer accept the inaction that has put our country at an economic and national security risk. It is time for Congress to work across party lines and with President Trump to ensure that a 21st century infrastructure package is delivered for the people of our great country.
• Rep. John “Jack” Bergman, Michigan Republican, served in the U.S. Marine Corps for 40 years, retiring with the rank of Lieutenant General. He is a member of the House Budget Committee, House Natural Resources Committee and House Veterans’ Affairs Committee.