The Role of US Inland Waterways

The Role of US Inland Waterways

Inland waterways in the US are a critical part of our infrastructure. They transport over 600 million tons of freight every year for both importing and exporting, and their origins can be traced back over 400 years back to the colonial period. To say that inland waterways are integral to the country’s progress is an understatement.

Industries Within the Industry

According to this source, “[t]his industry comprises establishments primarily engaged in providing waterborne transportation of cargo and passengers along the nation’s lakes, rivers and other inland waterways.”

Industry Products and Services  

  • Container transportation
  • Towing and tugboat services
  • Liquid bulk transportation
  • Dry bulk transportation
  • Passenger transportation
  • Other transportation and value-added services                     

 Industry Activities           

  • Canal barge transportation
  • Freight transportation on inland water
  • Intercoastal transportation of freight
  • Lake freight transportation
  • Lighterage (i.e. freight transportation except for vessel supply services)
  • River freight transportation
  • Ship chartering with crew on inland waters
  • Shipping freight on inland waters
  • Towing services on inland waters          

Impacts of US Inland Waterways

The inland waterways industry has experienced such exponential growth due largely in part to the benefits offered by this method of transportation. Without having them in place, we would experience deteriorating roadways, decreased air quality, increased cost and consumption of energy, and the inability to compete in a global market.

Economy: The transportation of those 600 million tons of cargo equates to approximately $70 billion in revenue for the country’s economy. Barge transport strategies can lower shipping costs, allowing organizations (and especially the agricultural industry) to be more competitive. Using inland waterways also lowers electricity costs and allows for the less expensive shipment of building materials to help the country grow and thrive.

Community: Inland waterways consist of 12,000 miles of channels that can be navigated by commercial barges throughout 38 states. They connect industrial and agricultural hubs and offer clear pathways for companies large and small to optimize their import and export business to ports that facilitate international marine trade.

Jobs: The industry supports over 300,000 jobs in and of itself, but there are countless other industries and workers who depend on inland waterway transportation to be sustainable — like farmers, steelworkers, commercial construction pros, port workers, and more. There are also those within the environmental protection and municipal infrastructure sectors that work hard to maintain waterways for those who work within them.

Freight Infrastructure: Imagine if the freight being shipped on the waterways was instead moved by rail or roadways. That would increase the capacity being hauled over dry land, doing near-immeasurable damage to highways and railways and the cost of repairs would be astronomical. Barge transport mitigates the need for those repairs and offers relief from shipping across land. 

Environment: Fewer railcars and shipping trucks on the road means less fuel consumption, and that means fewer emissions to impact the environment around us. Inland waterways also have minimal impact on the ecosystems around them, and there are strict guidelines in place that keep natural microcosms healthy and intact. 

Safety: Barges are inherently much safer than the railways or the roadways; there are no fuel spills or traffic accidents to be concerned about. Consider this: “For fatalities, there are 79 trucking deaths and 21.9 rail deaths for one barge related death. The data for this study on trucking injuries and fatalities varies greatly from previous iterations of this study because the government has changed the way it calculates ton-miles, now examining accidents or fatalities over more ton-miles than previously calculated.”

The Future of Inland Waterway Growth

If transportation on our inland waterways were to disappear, the country would see a loss of over $1 trillion over the next ten years — which would cause a devastating ripple effect. If we work hard to maintain and improve the inland waterways infrastructure in the coming years, it could mean job growth in the hundreds of thousands and revenue growth in the trillions of dollars.

We are committed to helping industries and organizations improve inland waterway infrastructure, which is why we have been working hard to provide marine supplies for over 30 years. From barges to marinas, to ports of entry, we are committed to helping our customers find new and innovative ways to optimize their marine transportation — get in touch with our team of experts today.