by Garrett Hawkins
Attending a high school prom as a chaperone wasn’t on my bucket list. It was added to my “honey do” list a few weeks ago when my wife asked me to escort her to the prom at the school where she teaches and serves as a junior class sponsor.
The experience was just as I remembered from my high school days minus the rented tuxedo, a fancy dinner and my dad’s 1973 Mach I Mustang. Those items were replaced by a suit and pair of shoes from my closet (rental shoes kill my feet), Schwan’s pasta from the freezer and our family crossover wagon as the “prom ride.”
It was a fun and humbling night, particularly when the kids tried to drag me on the dance floor. My “Macarena” moves from the late 1990s didn’t jive so well with the “Stanky Legg.” I certainly couldn’t sing along to the hip-hop tune “Thrift Shop” either.
The 14-year-gap between proms was a good reminder that I haven’t kept up with the latest pop culture trends. Keeping up with my daily work and family responsibilities are challenges enough, and others are in the same boat. Even our federal government struggles to keep up — just look at our roads, bridges, locks and dams.
Our nation is grappling with aging infrastructure, particularly on our inland waterways and ports. The American Society of Civil Engineers gave our nation’s inland waterway system a D- grade in its 2013 infrastructure report card. Nearly 50 percent of the nation’s 257 locks are classified as functionally obsolete. By 2020, more than 80 percent will be functionally obsolete. On the Upper Mississippi and Illinois River System, 57 percent of the locks were built in the 1930s with a projected 50-year lifespan.
Members of Congress will attempt to address our infrastructure problems as they rewrite the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), something that hasn’t been done since 2007. WRDA basically serves as the blueprint for new projects dealing with flood protection, port improvements and upgrades to lock and dam infrastructure.
The American Farm Bureau Federation and 20 other agricultural groups recently wrote U.S. senators to reinforce the importance of investing in our inland waterways and ports. More than 60 percent of our grain exports are transported via inland waterways and ultimately, 95 percent of U.S. agricultural exports and imports are transported through U.S. harbors. These activities support more than 400,000 jobs.
Waterborne transportation is by far our most economical and environmentally friendly transportation mode, but lock malfunctions or other infrastructure-related problems slow movements, increase costs and ultimately delay shipments to consumers. Meanwhile, countries such as Panama, Argentina, China and Brazil are moving aggressively to improve their infrastructure and therefore their competitiveness in international markets.
Coming to grips with age is never easy especially when it happens at a high school prom. The takeaway lesson can be applied across the board. Even as you age, it’s important to continually improve in order to be prepared when a need arises. Congress could learn something from prom: Improving and replacing an aging waterway and port system might seem daunting and expensive, but like learning the newest dance moves, it can be done one step at a time.