Why freighting goods on Illinois rivers makes good economic sense.

Posted on 9/14/2017 by SuperUser Account

Many people don't realize that the state of Illinois borders or contains over 1000 miles of the country's inland waterway system. In fact, the Illinois River could very easily be the most important inland water resource in the United States. Year after year, the Illinois River carries more tonnage and dollar value of commerce than the Mississippi north of St. Louis.

River barge traffic

River barge traffic plays a key role in keeping our American economy moving and it’s imperative to continue to upgrade the infrastructure to keep our waterways operational.

Coal, grain, petroleum, and aggregates make up the majority of the commodities moving along the inland waterway system. The state of Illinois also has the ability to move commodities via the Great Lakes.

Coal, petroleum and, ores/minerals are the top commodities moving on the Great Lakes system to and from the state of Illinois. The vast majority of the commodity movements are shipments to locations outside of the state to destinations in Louisiana, Indiana, Tennessee, Ohio, and Kentucky via the inland waterway.

In an average year, more than 30,000 barges travel on the Illinois River. Typically, barge tows include 15 barges lashed together, each capable of carrying 1,500 tons. One barge could be loaded with 52,500 bushels of corn or 453,600 gallons of petroleum. Shipping the contents of just one barge would put 58 more tractor–trailer rigs on the road or add 15 jumbo hopper cars to a train.

Typical grain tows on the upper Mississippi and Illinois Rivers move about 22,500 tons (15 barges x 1,500 ton). This is equivalent to about 225 rail cars or 865 tractor-trailer units.

If the waterway were not operational, it would have taken an additional 424,200 railcar trips or 1.63 million truck trips to accommodate this tonnage

A simple comparison of truck, rail, and barge rates indicates the comparative efficiency of the barge mode relative to rail and truck transportation. Per ton barge rates from Minnesota to the lower Mississippi River port area are about half of the per ton rail rates, whereas in the Iowa portion of the river, barge rates were about 40 percent of rail rates.

The comparative advantage of the barge mode in moving grain to lower Mississippi River ports is largely responsible for the dominance of barge transportation in assembling grain to this port area. Historically, over half of U.S. corn exports and over one-third of soybean exports have originated on the upper Mississippi and Illinois Waterways.

Comparison of land and water transportation

This chart, provided by McDonough Marine Service compares land and water transportation.

It is generally held that trucks are flexible and efficient transporters of grain over short distances (less than 250 miles) while railroad and barge cost structures favor more distant hauls with overall costs of moving goods decidedly in favor of barge transportation.

All three modes of transportation, though - barge, rail and ground are crucial to the functioning of our American economy. It is imperative that we continue to invest in infrastructure. At Midwest Foundation, our domain is on the river and we are  always ready to continue in our role of getting the job done right.

Midwest Foundation provides a wide range of turnkey marine construction, design and specialty service on, over and under the water. As part of the Byrne & Jones Companies, we're proud to be a trusted advisor to the clients we serve, working on their behalf to offer the best solutions for all of their marine-related challenges - and doing it safely every step of the way. For more information, visit http://www.midwestfoundation.com