The Mississippi River plays a crucial role in the global economy. But its crumbling navigation system is way past its prime. It needs funding for upgrades to compete in a changing world.
"We can't just keep kicking this can down the road," said Iowa Governor Terry Branstad. "We've got to find new and innovative ways to do it."
That's a reason why Gov. Branstad held a special trade meeting in Davenport on Tuesday. More than 100 participants from business, agriculture and government engaged in a debate over spending and investing.
"Is this going to be funded on the backs of tax payers?" asked Deere retiree Jerry Miller, Moline.
Miller worries about the cost, and how to pay for the massive upgrades.
"I don't think that any of those programs adequately make the people who profit by it to pay their fair share," he said.
While shippers pay a fuel tax, it just doesn't cover the costs. The Army Corps of Engineers tries to accomplish more with less during an era of fiscal restraint.
As Gov. Branstad encourages thinking out of the box, local businessman Larry Daily thinks that year-round shipping would help.
"You can go look," he told the panel. "There's not enough ice out there to stop a tow boat from coming up here and loading corn and soybeans right now."
While states along the Mississippi River corridor look for financial solutions, the nearby Illinois River offers inspiration.
"Because they're open year-round, they do so much more traffic than we do over here," Daily said.
Much of the discussion centers on the aging lock and dam system. Experts warn that each day of delay is a day closer to a catastrophic failure.
Just like a Mark Twain classic, the Mississippi must wind its way through challenges and look for creative solutions.