According to maritime and trade experts, much of the great potential for commercial transportation of US waterway systems is wasted due to lack of use or funding.
Most people are familiar with the importance of roads in freight transport across the United States, but for many, navigable waterways over 25,000 miles, including rivers, canals and coastal routes, are just as important. I don’t know.
“We have one of the best waterway networks in the world, but we rarely use it,” Joseph Linck, an international trade and energy consultant based in Brownsville, Texas, told Freight Waves. I did.
Link was the founder and chief executive officer of Globalstone LC and was director of the Port of Brownsville, Texas from 1988 to 1990. He is currently working with a large investment bank that wants to start putting sea shipping containers into hopper barges using inland waterways to provide the first long-distance container on-barge service in the United States. ..
The Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) is a 3,000-mile inland waterway that runs south of Boston along the Atlantic coast around the southern tip of Florida, following the Gulf of Mexico to Brownsville.
“Using waterways is a solution to the shortage of truck drivers in the United States, because one barge can bring 70 trucks off the road and move cargo for less than half the price,” Link said. Says.
The US waterway system consists of over 12,000 miles of inland waterways, 13,000 miles of coastal waterways, 360 commercial ports, and 237 locks and dam rooms.
The barge’s carrying capacity far exceeds that of tractor trailers and railcars.
A typical 15 barge tow can carry a total of 22,500 tonnes, 767,500 bushels, or 6.8 million gallons of cargo. This is compared to 6 locomotives and 216 railcars, or 1,050 large tractor trailers.
A barge can travel 647 miles of a ton of cargo with one gallon of fuel and 514 miles with diesel fuel. According to this, this is equivalent to 477 miles by rail and 145 miles by truck. 2017 study According to the Texas A & M Transportation Institute’s Port and Waterway Center.
Texas A & M Research National Waterway FoundationA non-profit organization based in Washington, DC, which addresses public policy issues related to the US inland waterway system.
An official of the National Grain Feed Association (NGFA) wrote in an email to FreightWaves that the waterway transportation system has long contributed to the competitiveness of American agriculture by transporting grain domestically and for export.
Corn and soybeans, along with wheat, solubilized dried grains from distilled liquor manufacturers, and soybean meal, are the most abundant agricultural products in the Gulf waterways.
“Approximately 70% of US agricultural exports in 2019 ($ 108.2 billion worth of 137.7 million metric tons) were by water. These exports provide 20% of US agricultural revenue,” said NGFA. Stated. “In the same year, the United States exported nearly 30% of its grain. Of this amount, more than 50% was tested on the Mississippi River, about 30% was tested on the Pacific Northwest port, and 5%. Inspected at the port of Texas Bay. “
Paul Ditman, President Gulf Canal Association (GICA) said the waterway system is one of the safest and most efficient modes of transportation in the United States
“All barge movements in inland waterways or other inland waterways within the Gulf Coast significantly reduce truck traffic,” said Dittman.
GICA is a New Orleans-based non-profit organization consisting primarily of more than 200 member companies along the Gulf Coast. Its purpose is to promote safe, reliable and efficient Gulf Channels.
“The Intracoastal Waterway is the third busiest inland waterway in the United States after the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers,” said Dittman. “The difference between the Mississippi and Ohio rivers is that we see about 70% dry bulk and 30% bulk liquid, whereas the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway is the exact opposite.”
According to Dittman, ICW is between the U.S. Petrochemical Centers in Texas and Louisiana, the rest of the inland waterway system, and the entire Gulf Coast, which is more than 1,100 miles from St. Marks, Florida to Brownsville. It also provides important links. ..
“For these reasons, the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway is often referred to as the Silent Giant,” Ditman said.
According to the Army Engineers, petroleum products, chemical products, agricultural products, manufactured goods, coal and grains are the top commodities transported by US waterways.
One of the biggest challenges for waterways in the United States has historically been the lack of funding for necessary maintenance such as dredging and infrastructure development.
“Some of the limiting factors we address include the aging of the Army Corps of Engineers infrastructure, which can be a problem if it malfunctions,” said Ditman.
One of the potential constraints on waterway transport is increased traffic at dilapidated locks. It is part of the channel system and controls the depth of the pool to create a channel deep enough for the vessel to use.
According to Ditman, the Inner Harbor Navigation Canal Lock (IHNC) in New Orleans provides the only access to the Gulf Intracoastal Canal east of New Orleans, a single point of failure if the lock is not available for navigation. Create a.
IHNC was built in 1923. GICA has begun the IHNC exchange in close cooperation with the federal government, but the project will take several years to complete.
“It’s virtually 100 years old and needs to be replaced. We’re working diligently with the US Army Corps of Engineers and the community to replace this dilapidated infrastructure with a new, larger lock.” Said Ditman.
GICA’s input-provided waterway project includes the $ 169 million Belle Chase Bridge and Tunnel Exchange Project in Belle Chase, Louisiana, and two new bridges over the San Jacinto River on South Padre Island, Texas and along the Gulf Coast. included.
Like GICA, grain industry officials have been asking Congress for years to upgrade dilapidated locks and dams in inland waterways.
Waterway stakeholders affiliated with NGFA officials said they are requesting Congress to include funding for the Navigation and Ecosystem Sustainability Program (NESP) in the final spending package. rice field.
NESP is an Army Corps of Engineers program dedicated to improving navigation and restoring ecosystems upstream of the Mississippi River in the Illinois Waterway.
“Parliament first approved NESP in 2007, but the program did not receive construction funding, while the Upper Mississippi River and the Illinois Waterway (UMR-” were built in 600-foot chambers in the 1930s and 1940s. Most of the IWW) locks are well beyond their design life, “says NGFA.
NESP will expand its navigation capacity along the UMR-IWW through the construction of seven new 1,200-foot locks and dams. The newly modernized NESP lock allows 15 barge towings to pass in a single lock, increasing efficiency and increasing US competitiveness.
“Building a new lock on UMR-IWW will spur job creation and help the United States remain competitive as the world’s grain exporter. For example, the United States is no longer the world’s number one soybean exporter. Instead, major competitors continue to lower transportation costs by investing in infrastructure, “says NGFA.
“Unless significant improvements are made to farm-to-port infrastructure, the US global market share will fall another 3-6 percentage points, with export sales of $ 1.5 billion to $ 3 billion, according to a study by the Ministry of Agriculture. It can lead to high losses. “
One of the supported infrastructure projects is funding the construction of a new 1,200-foot lock and dam (sluice and dam 25) upstream of the Mississippi River. It is included in both the House and Senate versions of Energy and Water in 2022. Budget plan.
“This funding has received widespread bipartisan support from lawmakers above and below the Mississippi River, and we hope that NGFA will be included in the final agreement on spending in 2022,” said NGFA.
While maritime experts are working to replace dilapidated locks and bridges along waterways, the United States will meet $ 47 billion in infrastructure waterway needs over the next 17 years to improve navigation-related waterfronts. Facing a shortage of funds. evaluation Issued in January American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE).
According to “Failure of Action: Ports and Inland Waterways—U.S. Economic Establishment” on page 170, “The funding gap in inland waterways is almost entirely due to lock and dam infrastructure, almost obsolete and fails. There is a tendency. “
ASCE also rated infrastructure in 17 categories in March. Grades ranged from negative rail transport from B to D-. NS-Furthermore for inland waterways.
In a statement, ASCE Managing Director Thomas Smith said, “If we do not act urgently, we will face significant financial losses, increased costs for consumers, businesses and manufacturers, and risks to quality of life. “.
Another problem facing the US waterway system is the declining demand for coal. Coal has historically been a major commodity in waterways, but has been on a long downtrend as the United States gradually becomes less dependent on fossil fuels.
The Energy Information Agency reports that US coal shipments by waterway decreased by 20% in 2020 from 2019.
In 2019, more than $ 134 billion of cargo passed through US inland waterways, according to the Waterways Council Inc. This is equivalent to about 515 million tons.
The Intracoastal Waterway helped Brownsville Port regain profitability in the late 1980s, according to Link.
“We have started midwestern grain with new freight steel and river barges,” Linck said. “We departed from the port of Pittsburgh on the Ohio River and lowered those barges to the Mississippi River and to the Gulf Intracoastal Canal from New Orleans to Brownsville.”
Link said the US waterway system could also have problems with the image of modern logistics professionals. Moving goods over inland waterways can be more fuel efficient and less expensive, but requires longer-term planning.
“We need to re-educate all traffic managers, empower them a little more and remove these MBA Bean count managers from just-in-time inventory management. They can’t plan correctly, so they I’ll truck everything. They just throw money there and basically get it where it needs to go, “Link said.
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