In an era of increasing fuel costs, concerns about infrastructure and the environmental consequences of freight movement, this current study notes that one typical 15-barge river tow has the same capacity as 1,015 trucks and 216 rail cars being pulled by six locomotives.
A Modal Comparison of Freight Transportation Effects on the General Public was prepared by the Center for Ports and Waterways at the Texas Transportation Institute with funding from the US Department of Transportation Maritime Administration and the National Waterways Foundation.
Transportation topics examined in the report include cargo capacity, congestion, emissions, energy efficiency, safety and infrastructure impacts. Not only does the study investigate statistical data, it provides examples to illustrate conclusions. For example, the study notes that, “The amount of cargo currently transported on these rivers is the equivalent of 58,000,000 truck trips annually that would have to travel on the nation’s roadways in lieu of water transportation.”
The waterways mentioned are the Mississippi, Ohio River, Gulf Intracoastal Waterway, Tennessee River, Cumberland River and the Columbia River System, including the Columbia and Snake Rivers.
Part of the report covers a case study analysis conducted that estimates the impact closing of the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers in the vicinity of St. Louis, MO would have on highway traffic. “The model results in an over 200% increase in truck traffic,” concludes the report, “an over 400% increase in delays, as well as substantive increases in accidents, casualties, maintenance and emissions costs.”
NWF chairman Peter Stephaich notes that, "While we are truly an intermodal society, this comparison of rail, truck and inland waterways transport modes offers an important new perspective on the real benefits of moving cargo by water."