- Inland waterways of the United States
The inland waterways of the United States include over 25,000 miles (40000 km) of
navigablewaters. Much of the commercially important waterways of the United Statesconsist of the Mississippi River System—the Mississippi Riverand connecting waterways.
Almost all of the navigable
rivers and canals in the United States are in the eastern half of the country. The Columbia, Sacramento, and San Joaquin Rivers are the only major navigable rivers on the West Coast. The steep grades and variable flows of most other West Coast rivers make them unsuitable for navigation. Also, most large rivers there are dammed, often in multiple places, to supply water for hydroelectricityproduction and other uses. A shortage of water and mountainous terrain in the West make canals unfeasible as well.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers(USACE) is responsible for 12,000 miles (19000 km) of the waterways. This figure includes the Intracoastal Waterway. Most of the commercially important inland waterways are maintained by the USACE, including 11,000 miles (18000 km) of fuel taxed waterways. Commercial operators on these designated waterways pay a fuel tax, deposited in the Inland Waterways Trust Fund, which funds half the cost of new constructionand major rehabilitation of the inland waterways infrastructure.
The Mississippi River System, including the
Gulf Intracoastal Waterway(GIWW) connects Gulf Coastports, such as Mobile, New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Houston, and Corpus Christi, with major inland ports, including Memphis, St. Louis, Chicago, St. Paul, Cincinnati, and Pittsburgh. The Lower Mississippi Riverfrom Baton Rouge to the Gulf of Mexicoallows ocean shipping to connect with the bargetraffic, thereby making this segment vital to both the domestic and foreign tradeof the United States. In the Pacific Northwest, the Columbia- Snake RiverSystem allows navigation 465 miles (750 km) inland to Lewiston, Idaho.
A principal value of the inland waterways is their ability to efficiently convey large volumes of bulk commodities moving long distances.
Towboats push barges lashed together to form a "tow". A tow may consist of four or six barges on smaller waterways up to over 40 barges on the mighty Mississippi Riverbelow its confluence with the Ohio River. A 15-barge tow is common on the larger rivers with locks, such as the Ohio, Upper Mississippi, Illinois and Tennessee rivers. Such tows are an extremely efficient mode of transportation, moving about 22,500 tons of cargo as a single unit. A single 15-barge tow is equivalent to about 225 railroad cars or 870 tractor-trailertrucks. If the cargo transported on the inland waterways each year had to be moved by another mode, it would take an additional 6.3 million rail cars or 25.2 million trucks to carry the load.
The ability to move more cargo per shipment makes
bargetransport both fuelefficient and environmentally advantageous. On average, a gallon of fuel allows one ton of cargo to be shipped 59 miles by truck, 202 miles by railway, and 514 miles by barge (95 km, 325 km, and 827 km, respectively). Carbon dioxideemissions from water transportation were 10 million metric tons less in 1997 than if rail transportation had been used. Inland waterways allow tremendous savings in fuel consumption, reduced greenhouse gasemissions and air pollution, reduced traffic congestion, fewer accidents on railways and highways, and less noise and disruption in cities and towns.
Barges are well suited for the movement of large quantities of bulk commodities and raw materials at relatively low cost. The inland and intracoastal waterway system handles about 630 million tons of cargoannually, or about 17 percent of all intercity freightby volume. These are raw materials or primary manufactured products that are typically stored for further processing or consumption, or transshipped for overseas markets.
Coalis the largest commodity by volume moving on the inland waterways. The country's electric utilityindustry depends on the inland waterways for over 20 percent of the coal they consume to produce electricity.
Petroleumis the next largest group, including crude oil, gasoline, diesel fuel, jet fuel, heavy fuel oils and asphalt.
# Another large group includes
grainand other farm products, most of which moves by waterway to ports on the Lower Mississippi Riveror Columbia Riverfor export overseas. 60 percent of the country's farm exports travel through inland waterways.
# Other major commodities include aggregates, such as stone,
sandand gravelused in construction; chemicals, including fertilizers; metal ores, minerals and products, such as steel; and many other manufacturers products.
Inland and intracoastal waterways directly serve 38 states throughout the nation's heartland as well as the states on the
Atlantic seaboard, the Gulf Coastand the Pacific Northwest. The shippers and consumers in these states depend on the inland waterways to move about 630 million tons of cargo valued at over $73 billion annually. States on the Gulf Coast and throughout the Midwestand Ohio Valleyespecially depend on the inland and intracoastal waterways. Texasand Louisianaeach ship over $10 billion worth of cargo annually, while Illinois, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Kentucky, Mississippi, Alabama, and Washingtonstate each ship between $2 billion and $10 billion annually. Another eight states ship at least $1 billion annually. According to research by the Tennessee Valley Authority, this cargo moves at an average transportation savings of $10.67 per ton over the cost of shipping by alternative modes. This translates into over $7 billion annually in transportation savings to economy of the United States.
The nearly 12,000 miles of U.S. inland and intracoastal waterways maintained by the
U.S. Army Corps of Engineersincludes 191 commercially active lock sites with 237 lock chambers. Some locks have more than one chamber, often of different dimensions. These locks provide the essential infrastructure that allows tows to "stair-step" their way through the system and reach distant inland ports such as Minneapolis, Chicago, and Pittsburgh. The locks can generally be categorized by three different sizes, as expressed by length. About 15 percent of the lock chambers are 1,000 to 1,200 feet long, 60 percent are 600-999 feet long, and 25 percent are less than 600 feet long. Lock widths are mostly 110 feet. The 1,200-foot locks can accommodate a tow of 17 barges plus the towboat, while the 600-foot locks can accommodate at most eight barges plus the towboat. The lock size and tow size are critical factors in the amount of cargo that can pass through a lock in a given period of time.
Over 50 percent of the locks and
dams operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineersare over 50 years old. Many of the 600-foot locks on the system were built in the 1930s or earlier, including those on the Ohio, Upper Mississippi, Illinois and Tennessee rivers. These projects are approaching the end of their design lives and are in need of modernization or major rehabilitation. Since many of today's tows operate with 12 or more barges, passing through a 600-foot lock requires the tow to be "cut" into two sections to pass the lock. Such multiple cuts can be time consuming and cause long queues of tows waiting for their turn to move through the lock.
In the 1960s the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began to modernize the locks on the
Ohio Riverand added 1,200-foot chambers that permit a typical tow to pass in a single lockage. This modernization process continues today with the construction of a new dam with twin 1,200-foot locks at Olmsted, Illinoislocated at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers and a second 1,200-foot chamber at McAlpine Locks and Dam near Louisville. Modern 1,200-foot chambers are also being constructed at Kentucky Lock on the Tennessee Riverand at the Inner Harbor Lock on the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway at New Orleans. Other projects are underway in Pennsylvania, West Virginiaand Arkansas. In addition, several major rehabilitations are also underway. Altogether, this ongoing work represents an investment of over $3.5 billion in inland waterway modernization that will be completed over the next decade. Half this investment will come from fuel taxes paid by the inland towing industry. These projects include not only modern navigation facilities, but also important investments in environmental restoration and management.
Several key navigation improvement feasibility studies are underway throughout the inland waterway system, including on the Upper
Mississippi Riverand Illinois Waterway, Ohio River, the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway, the Black Warrior Riverand the Tennessee River. Over the next few years, these studies will identify the navigation and natural environmental actions needed to support the inland waterway system. While annual capitalspending for the inland waterway system has averaged about $170 million in recent years, the income stream from fuel tax revenues can support an annual capital investment program of about $250 million without reducing the surplus in the Inland Waterways Trust Fund, whose balance was $385 million at the end of 1999.
* [http://www.mvr.usace.army.mil/Brochures/InlandWaterwayNavigation.asp U.S. Army Corps of Engineers]
Inland Waterway (Michigan)
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