The Natural Highways of the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers Will Play An Even Bigger Role for Transportation of Goods in the Future

by Greg Smith | Dec 08, 2016
All Things River 130711On Monday, December 5, U.S. Department of Transportation Maritime Administrator Paul “Chip” Jaenichen visited the St. Louis Regional Chamber to announce six Marine Highway Grants. Partners from the Inland River Port & Terminal Association, the Upper Mississippi River Basin Association and the Mississippi River Cities & Towns Initiative were also on hand for the announcement. 

It is estimated that population increases in the United States over the next 30 years will require nearly doubling of the domestic freight capacity in the United States. This will exceed the capacity of the traditional modes of goods transports such as rail and highway and would require tremendous infrastructure investments to support. One of the potential economic solutions to this dramatic transportation demand increase is utilizing the inland waterway systems already in existence. Utilizing the various waterways but especially the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers that converge in the St. Louis Metropolitan area, provides tremendous potential economic advantages for the region and relief for future further congested infrastructure nationally. Currently the navigation economy on the Mississippi River generates $5 billion in annual revenues and supports approximately 20,000 jobs. 

In support of the strategic planning required to meet this increased demand by utilizing “container- on- barges” services, a $713,000 grant was awarded to America’s Central Port located in Granite City, Illinois. The Illinois Container on Barge Shuttle is an 18-month demonstration project to provide shuttle service for agricultural customers moving containerized exports between southern and northern Illinois to access the Union Pacific and BNSF rail ramps. The shuttle service will operate on the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers between Channahon and Granite City, Ill., with an option to extend container-on-barge service to the Gulf of Mexico ports in concert with related Marine Highway Designation.

Currently there are over 30 million containers that enter the U.S. every year, but there are very few of them that move on the inland waterway system. An efficient container-on-barge shipping process would certainly help to change that. These initial grants are some of the first steps in the development of that process ultimately leading to as efficient and cost effective process as possible. Increased barge traffic on the natural resources of the Mississippi, Illinois and Missouri Rivers is not only a very good, viable option to additional infrastructure, it’s a great economic growth stimulator for the St. Louis Region. 
 
To read more about the grants awarded for Marine Highway projects, visit the Maritime Administration website.

Joe Reagan U.S. Department of Transportation Maritime Administrator Paul “Chip” Jaenichen