Barges Port of Catoosa (copy)

Barges sit in water next to each other while backed up in the Tulsa Port of Catoosa in June. IAN MAULE/Tulsa World file

The McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System wasn’t in very good shape to begin with.

And then the flooding started.

U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe says that the navigation system has a $225 million backlog of critical maintenance projects, any number of which could cripple a key economic lifeline for Tulsa and much of the nation.

The 445-mile waterway runs from the Tulsa Port of Catoosa to the Mississippi River, passing through 18 locks and dams. It transports 10.9 million tons of commerce worth $3.5 billion every year. The economies of 12 states depend on it.

In its inception, the waterway was an audacious idea. What?! A seaport? In Oklahoma? But the dream was made real by the political clout of the two senators whose names it bears.

Once it was built, however, too many in Washington behaved as if their work was done — the navigation system would be magically immune from the effects of weather and nature or would somehow sustain itself.

The waterway has troubled gates at several locks and other concrete structures so worn that their rebar is exposed.

Meanwhile, spring and summer flooding have dumped tons of silt in the channel, which must be redredged.

Nothing has moved out of Catoosa since May 13, and the dredge work isn’t likely to be complete until November, Inhofe says.

In short, the waterway isn’t working, and it’s in danger of an even more catastrophic failure if the nation doesn’t reinvest in its critical infrastructure soon.

Inhofe is a senior member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and chairs the Armed Services Committee, both of which have authority over the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

That’s a powerful position for pushing for continued maintenance on the waterway, and the senator has always used it for all it was worth, but he can’t do it alone.

It’s time for the rest of Congress to pay attention.

The McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System is critically important. The nation has invested billions in building it. It is vital to the nation’s economy. We can’t afford to allow it to deteriorate before our very eyes because of political neglect.

Subscribe to Daily Headlines

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.