more than 624 million tons of waterborne cargo transit inland waterways
on barges, which are ideal for hauling
commodities and overweight equipment such as coal, iron, steel, grain,
chemicals and petroleum, project
cargoes and intermodal containers,
according to the chamber.
To that end, there are 4,095
“unsafe” dams that are susceptible to
failure, according to the American
Society of Civil Engineers’
“2009 Report Card for America’s
Infrastructure,” its most recent.
“Dams” received a Report Card grade
of D, as did “Transit.” “Inland Waterways” fared worse, earning a D-.
Of the 240 lock sites in the United
States, most have been in service
more than 60 years and have largely
gone beyond their life expectancy by
at least 10 years, according to the
Finally, given projected increases in port volume, which
is expected to at least triple by 2020, the BAF report points
out that “while our nation has a vibrant network of port
facilities, we are not doing enough to keep up with our
international competitors. Other countries are leapfrog-
ging past us by investing in world-class ports.”
Still, America’s “great waters,” including its coastal sea
routes, the Great Lakes and rivers, were the nation’s first
highways more than 200 years ago, and the inland water-
way system often is dubbed the envy of the world for facil-
itating exports such as grain, for example, as no other
country can, said Dana Goward, director of Marine Trans-
portation Systems Management for the U.S. Coast Guard.
“America’s inland waterways were crucial in the development of our country into a great nation, and into the
economic and military power it is today,” Goward said.
As a critically important U.S. export, grain is produced about 3 percent less expensively than in other
big grain producing areas of the world because it
comes down the river system and can be shipped out
of the Port of New Orleans, he said.
“If the river system was to dry up and go away, then
countries like Argentina and Brazil and other big grain
producers would be eating our economic lunch because it would be so much more expensive to get grain
out of the country for export,” Goward said.
But, he noted, there are points of failure on the inland
river system, in terms of old locks and dams, and facilities that are used to contain, control and allow passage of
PORT OF LOS ANGELES
Shipping containers are transferred from ship to railcar at the intermodal facility at the Port of Los Angeles. U.S. freight rail tonnage is expected to rise 88
percent through 2035.
“That is the day after tomorrow in transportation
planning terms,” he said. “With that population growth,
you think about goods movement and how it is the life’s
blood of our economy. We know we need to ramp up our
efforts and do a better job of coordinating across transportation modes, across governmental entities, across
federal government stovepipes, than we’re doing today.”
The Department of Transportation’s “America’s Marine Highway Initiative,” an effort supported by the Navy
League of the United States in its 2012-13 Maritime
Policy Statement released in early April, includes the
National Freight Policy, which shifts more freight cargo
to the nation’s waterways to improve competitiveness,
while reducing congestion, carbon emissions and transportation costs.
“We see so much promise in America’s Marine High-
ways,” Porcari said. “It is by far the most efficient, the
most environmentally benign and the least capacity-
constrained way to move goods, and we’re blessed with
three coasts, the Great Lakes and a great inland water-
There are 26,000 miles of commercially navigable
waterways and more than 79,000 dams located through-
out the United States, according to the BAF report, and
there are about 360 American sea and river ports, accord-
ing to the American Association of Port Authorities.
In one day, about 43 million tons of goods valued at $29
billion move on the nation’s interconnected network of
ports, roads, rails and inland waterways, based on the
most recent U.S. Chamber of Commerce data. Annually,