An “Inland Marine Highway for freight”
The nation’s inland waterway system includes nearly 12,000 miles of navigable channels and some 240 lock sites. These “inland highways” move commerce to and from 38 states, serve industrial and agricultural centers and facilitate imports and exports at gateway ports.
Moving the nation’s commodities
By safely and cost-effectively moving America’s cargo, barge transportation makes a vital contribution to our nation’s economy, environment and quality of life. Every year, roughly 575.5 million tons of waterborne cargo transit the inland waterways, a volume equal to about 14% of all intercity freight and valued at $229 billion.
Barges are ideal for hauling bulk commodities and moving oversized or overweight equipment, including:
•Iron & Steel
Strengthening our economy
America’s economy benefits from the cost efficiencies barge transport provides over transport by truck or rail. Approximately 60% of the nation’s grain exports move by barge, helping our agricultural exports stay competitive in global markets. Barge transport also keeps our nation’s vital energy sources flowing, fueling our industrial base and keeping our high-tech economy running. More that 22% of domestic petroleum and petroleum products, and 20% of the coal used in electricity generation transit our inland waterways. According to “CIA World Fact Book”, third-quarter 2012 U.S. exports, agricultural products (soybeans, fruit and corn) amounts to $185 billion.
A clear choice for the environment
U.S. waterways provide great capacity to ease congestion by carrying cargo that would otherwise travel by truck or rail. The annual traffic on America’s inland navigation system carriers the equivalent of 58 million truck trips per year.
Rail emits 39.9% more air pollutants than barge and truck 371% more. Moving cargo on our inland waterways keeps our air cleaner.
Energy Saving: Barges can move one ton of cargo 647 miles per gallon of fuel; a rail car would move the same ton of cargo 477 miles, and a truck only 145 miles. Texas Transportation Institute's Center for Ports and Waterways at Texas A&M University (March 30, 2017).
Entire Upper Mississippi River Basin benefits from River
An analysis of the Upper Mississippi River Basin - Minneapolis to the junction point with the Ohio River, 858 miles downstream – shows that in 2008, about 73.7 million tons of commodities were shipped on the river system out of the basin. Almost 43% of this tonnage consisted of corn, soybeans, wheat and other grains. Most of the grain (31.6 million tons) went to New Orleans and Baton Rouge areas on the Gulf of Mexico. Coal leaving the basin went mostly to 29 power plants in Alabama, Mississippi, Ohio, Louisiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, Indiana, Florida and West Virginia.
An analysis of the waterborne commerce data for the State of Minnesota shows that
over 3 million tons of commodities were shipped on the river system out of the state.
The bulk of this tonnage (2.3 million tons) consisted of grain. Docks in the state
received almost 3.4 million tons from other states, with chemicals being the primary
commodity. More than 1.4 million tons moved within the state. In 2008, the 7.8 million
tons shipped to, from and within Minnesota had a value of $1.8 billion.
Waterways – the Greener Way to go
One hopper barge carries as much dry cargo as 16 rail cars or 70 trucks, so one common 15-barege tow keeps 1,050 trucks off the highways. Barges move liquids effectively, too: one tank barge moves as much as 46 rail cars or 144 trucks.
Transporting freight by water is the most energy-efficient choice. A barge moves one ton of freight 29% further than a rail car and just over 4 times further than a truck.
Barges have the smallest carbon footprint of the three modes. To move an identical amount of cargo by rail generates 39% more carbon dioxide than by barge, and trucks would generate a whopping 371% more emissions.