Who is Served by the Waterways?
Forty-one states, sixteen state capitals, and all states east of the Mississippi River are served by commercially navigable waterways.
The states of Texas and Louisiana have the most commercial port facilities in the United States (approximately 1000 per state).
Louisiana has the greatest number of waterway miles maintained by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (over 2,000).
Some of America's largest ports are on inland waterways, including New Orleans, Mobile, Houston, and Portland.
The Gulf Intracoastal Waterway and the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway link inland ports and deepwater ports to the Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic Ocean, and the world.
Nearly 500 U.S. grain transfer facilities are served by water transportation with the largest number, over 140 facilities, located on the Upper Mississippi River and the Illinois Waterway.
The southernmost port facilities in the United States are located on the Big Island of Hawaii.
The state of Michigan has deep-draft port facilities on five lakes.
Fairmount, West Virginia, is the port city farthest from the ocean (2,085 miles) via an inland waterway.
Public ports generate significant local and regional economic growth, including job creation. Commercial port activities provide employment for over 1.6 million Americans. (That's more than the population of Orlando, Florida; Indianapolis, Indiana; or New Orleans, Louisiana!)
Locks Make the Rivers Navigable
The oldest operating locks in the United States are Kentucky River Locks 1 and 2, built in 1839.
John Day Lock in Oregon has the highest lift of any U.S. lock at 110 feet.
The nation's busiest lock is the Ohio River Lock #52 in Illinois.
What is Shipped on the Inland Waterways?
Navigable channels provide an efficient and economic corridor for moving 2.2 billion tons of the nation's domestic and foreign commerce.
Water transportation serves as a vital link in the industrial production process by providing a low-cost method of shipping and receiving goods. Each year, the inland barge industry moves nearly 125 million tons of liquids, including crude petroleum, petroleum products, and liquid, molten, and gaseous chemicals.
Compared to other modes, barges can provide an efficient method for moving chemicals. One 3,300-ton barge carries the same tonnage as a string of 33 rail cars. The same tonnage would require 110 tank trucks spanning three miles.
Eighteen million tons of chemicals move into the Mississippi and Ohio River Valleys each year. Louisiana, Texas, and Illinois lead in shipping and receiving chemicals by barge. Indiana, Kentucky, West Virginia, Minnesota, and Missouri also receive large quantities of chemicals.
Approximately 60 percent of all U.S. exported grain and large volumes of exported coal move to seaport by barge.
Domestically, coal is shipped over water using two methods: by barge via the inland and intracoastal waterways; and by ship on the Great Lakes. International shipments travel aboard large bulk carriers, or coal colliers. Together, these waterborne methods of shipment move about 200 million tons of coal, and 20 percent of domestic coal movement.
Coal is the third-largest freight commodity moved on the nation's waterways.
Deep-draft ports accommodate ocean-going vessels that move over 95 percent of the U.S. overseas trade by weight and 75 percent by value. (Source: U.S. Bureau of the Census)
Environmental Benefits of Waterways Transportation
Barge transportation is less threatening to the environment. Moving goods by barge provides environmental benefits over surface modes of transportation in terms of air quality. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection estimates that towboat emissions per ton-mile are 35 percent to 60 percent less than truck emissions.
The Federal Highway Administration estimates that for each 1 million tons of coal diverted from barge to truck, 45,600 additional trucks would be needed to move the coal at a cost of $1.14 million in surface repairs. Not factored is the increased congestion caused by more traffic on the roadways.