Study quantifies public benefits of inland barge transport
The U.S. inland waterway system saved the U.S. economy $11 per ton or $7 billion in 2005 compared to moving bulk commodities by rail or truck, according to a study released Monday by the National Waterways Foundation.
Rivers and intracoastal waterways handled more than 624 million tons of freight (274 billion ton-miles) valued at more than $70 billion, latest figures show.
The non-profit educational and research organization and the U.S. Maritime Administration commissioned the study by the Texas Transportation Institute to provide more current data to policymakers about the capacity, safety, fuel economy and other benefits of waterborne cargo transport. Congress and the executive branch have relied on data that is 30 years old to help develop maintenance and capital budgets for locks, dams, dredging and other infrastructure, said Barry Palmer, a foundation trustee and president of the Waterways Council advocacy group. The new information can help the Army Corps of Engineers prioritize projects based on the economic value to the nation as well as engineering considerations.
The study’s primary objective is to compare water transport to other modes. The typical 15-barge tow, for example, has the equivalent capacity of two unit trains or 1,050 trucks equipped with 53-foot trailers. Earlier statistics, based on older technologies and other factors, equated the same barge capacity to 870 trucks, Palmer said. The waterway industry promotes the fact that it can help reduce congestion on crowded highways and help reduce pollution.
The amount of cargo on the Mississippi main stem, Ohio main stem, Gulf Intracoastal Waterway, Tennessee River, Cumberland River and Columbia River is equivalent to 58 million truck trips annually, including empty backhauls, which would more than double the number of big rigs on rural Interstates if that traffic was diverted to roads. A towboat can move one ton of cargo 560 miles on a gallon of fuel, compared to 413 miles for a train and 150 miles for a truck, the study said.
The report “shows that water transport is the most energy efficient form of moving bulk cargoes,” Palmer said.
To read the study, go to www.nationalwaterwaysfoundation.org/study/public%20study.pdf ' Eric Kulisch