Philadelphia, Baltimore, New Orleans, San Francisco, Portland and Seattle are to be gateways for growth or mere leak-holes of national wealth; whether the advantages of great-circle steam-lines may not overbalance productivity and transfer dominant commercial lines and centers beyond our boundaries; whether we are able to balance our magnificent distances and splendid productivity in such wise as to maintain that economy of transportation and reasonableness of delivery of both imports and exports requisite for a world-power! The questions are nation-wide. Twenty-odd states and forty million inhabitants of the interior are actually suffering from the congestion; fifteen states and thirty million people on the Atlantic coast are complaining under imposts of burdensome traffic; the western states with their seven millions, which would triple in ten years were the burden removed, find their growth paralyzed by the same cause.
Will the improvement of waterways and the restoration of water traffic bring relief? Certainly the plan promises much, while no other promises anything. It has been estimated that our 29,000 miles of inland waterways (exclusive of lakes, bays, sounds, etc.) might be doubled at a cost of $500,000,000 to $800,000,000, i. e., one tenth of the amount required to raise railways to the capacity required to-day; and it is safe to say that when the nation adopts a progressive waterway policy, private enterprise will build the boats—and that when this is done our great productive areas can deliver exports at and receive imports from the coast cities at an average of not more than half and probably less than a third of the present cost. With the readjustment of transportation lines, the railways might change from trans-continental carriers of bulk freight to feeders of the waterways; yet their efficiency as public utilities need not decline, and their profits might increase, as recently held by President Harahan (of the Illinois Central Railway). The superior economy of water transportation, which has been shown statistically over and over again, may be illustrated by the fact that a river packet can be built at a cost of two miles of railway (including rolling stock but not right-of-way or terminals) and will carry three 400-ton train-loads of freight; or that a tow and barges suited to the Mississippi-Ohio traffic can be built for the cost of four or five miles of railway and will carry 150 train-loads; or that the entire cost of waterway development contemplated would hardly suffice to build and equip a single trans-continental double-track railway with the requisite rights-of-way and terminals.
Nor is waterway improvement a new venture, involving unknown
- The Bartholdt bill now before the house of representatives provides for a bond issue of $500,000,000 for waterway improvement; the Newlands bill pending in the senate provides for a waterway fund of $50,000,000 to be continued by appropriations or bond issues as needed.