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Statement of Senator John F. Kennedy on Waterways Development, Washington, DC

October 23, 1960

From the earliest days of our national life, the Federal Government has maintained and improved the waterways of America - rivers, canals, lakes, and ocean harbors - free from tolls or charges. This policy reflects the recognition by the Government of its responsibilities for the unification of the Nation, for encouragement of industry and commerce, for building the national estate, the development of natural resources, the diffusion of economic opportunity, and the strengthening of the Nation in peace and war.

This policy has been abundantly vindicated by its success. Its results are evidenced by population growth and distribution, industrial and community development, rising income and employment levels along navigable waters, rapidly increasing volumes of traffic, including grain and other commodities essential to farm welfare, and dispersal of strategic industry throughout the relatively protected interior of the country along the waterways.

Recent studies demonstrate that the measurable economic benefits of improved waterways in savings of transportation costs are greatly in excess of the Federal costs involved. The benefits are widely diffused throughout the national economy in the form of more abundant goods and services, including electric power, at reduced prices, and rising income levels and improved economic opportunities for workers, farmers, and businessmen. The prophecy of Andrew Jackson has been confirmed by history:

Every member of the Union in peace and war will be benefited by the improvement of internal navigation.

Efficient modern water transportation made possible by improved waterways has proven its value as a vital part of the national transportation system. Availability of the waterways for low-cost transportation of basic industrial commodities and fuels has created a net increment to the Nation's industrial establishment which could not otherwise have occurred on a comparable scale. Other modes of transport receive major additions to high-value finished-goods traffic from water-oriented industry, reflecting a basically complementary relationship. Thus, waterway improvement policy contributes to the attainment of national goals for achieving a healthy, coordinated transportation system.


The outstanding values of the long-established American policy of waterways improvement have been best demonstrated in its effectiveness for dealing with the problems of an expanding economy, essentially similar to those which the Nation is destined to confront on a larger scale in the years ahead.

The present and future needs of the Nation for economic expansion and community development demand an associated expansion of low-cost bulk transportation. This challenge can only be met by improving waterways facilities and keeping them free from tolls and other burdensome restrictions.

We are in the midst of an explosive increase in population with a consequent need for enormously expanded employment opportunities, which will require a scale of private capital investment hitherto unimagined. We also face in the immediate future an intensified competitive struggle, not only with the Communist world, but with the expanding industrial power of the nations of the free world in both domestic and foreign markets - and this at the very time when we are called upon to maximize our export trade. Inflation threatens to be a continuing menace to sound economic development.


In such a period, we will be compelled to make maximum use of our natural resources, to encourage private investment, to improve our productive efficiency and to facilitate the orderly adjustment of regional populations and of areas depressed as a result of rapid technological change. In the light of these expectations, elementary wisdom demands an expanded program of waterways improvement in accordance with our long-established policy which has so brilliantly proven its effectiveness as a foundation and stimulus for a soundly expanding free enterprise economy.

Important regions of the country where growth is lagging behind national levels in spite of rich local resources and manpower urgently require the provision of improved, low-cost water transportation for their full participation in rising national income standards. The development of these regions will benefit the entire nation through a mounting contribution of production and markets to the national economy. Failure to provide the necessary improvements for utilization of available water transportation opportunities would constitute not only a grave discrimination against these regions and communities, deterring their development in accordance with rates of progress prevailing elsewhere; it would also entail a serious waste of undeveloped natural resources detrimental to the entire Nation.


The national interest demands adherence to established national policy for waterways maintenance and improvement as a continuing responsibility of the Federal Government. We must reject all proposals such as those of the Department of Commerce and the Budget Bureau of the Eisenhower-Nixon administration for imposition of burdens upon the use of the waterways - including tolls, toll-equivalent taxes and so-called user charges - which would destroy the values of investments heretofore made in such facilities.

Such restrictive policies could not fail to increase the Nation's transportation cost burden and to deprive shippers of the advantages and economies of low-cost water transportation of basic commodities as an important element of a coordinated national transportation system.

Additional burdens upon the use of waterway improvements necessarily involve the waste of Federal investments and natural resources, the neglect of vital developmental opportunities, and sacrifices of public values, as well as impairment of basic economic relationships established in reliance upon continued unhampered use of the Nation's waterways, and far-reaching community and economic dislocations.

John F. Kennedy, Statement of Senator John F. Kennedy on Waterways Development, Washington, DC Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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