Report urges new focus on strategic investments in US inland waterways

The U.S. inland waterways system needs a well-executed and sustainable plan to maintain its performance and reliability, which would guarantee that the system’s limited resources would be used only when most necessary, the National Research Council's Transportation Research Board (TRB) said in a report published Tuesday.

The report said U.S. inland waters make up a large geographic region yet the system's freight traffic is concentrated. Approximately half of barge cargo traffic moves on six major inland water routes, with those six corridors representing only 16 percent of the total waterway miles. Many inland waterways have little or no freight traffic.

Experts state that more targeted operations and maintenance investments, which would be educated according to an asset management approach, could adequately prioritize those facilities and locks that need the maintenance first. Disrupting these particular facilities and locks would cause the most havoc on the economy.

“Debates about funding for the inland waterways system and the roles of the federal government and users in paying for the system deserve renewed attention in light of shrinking federal budgets, declining appropriations and increasing maintenance needs for its infrastructure,” TRB Committee on Reinvesting in Inland Waterways Chairman Chris Hendrickson said. Hendrickson is the Hamerschlag University Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

 “Without a funding strategy that emphasizes system preservation, maintenance projects may continue to be deferred, which would result in further deterioration and in a less cost-effective and less reliable system,” Hendrickson said.

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