Inland Waterways Still Vital Asset for Tri-State
27 May 2016
One of Collis P. Huntington's big ideas after the Civil War was to
connect his Chesapeake and Ohio rail line with the nation's inland
waterways and expand commerce into the Midwest.
Huntington was founded in 1871 on the banks of the Ohio River as
part of that plan, and our region has been involved in river
transportation ever since.
Today, most of us may think shipping in terms of trucking and Fed
Ex, but the Tri-State's river and rail connections are still a
vital part of the nation's commercial transportation system -
especially when it comes to commodities and the "big stuff."
Even with the slowdown in the coal industry, the West Virginia
river systems that make up the Port of Huntington Tri-State is
still the second largest inland port in the country, handling
billions in coal, construction materials, petroleum products and
chemicals every year. That work contributes about $1.6 billion to
the West Virginia economy and supports more than 9,000 jobs,
according to the Waterways Council.
That is important to today's economy, but it may be even more
important to our nation's future economy, because almost every way
you look at it, waterways transportation is cleaner, safer and
For example, one 15-barge tow can carry a load that would require
216 rail cars and six locomotives or 1,050 large semi-tractor
trailers, according to industry estimates.
That also translates into significant fuel and emissions savings.
When it comes to the amount of fuel used to move a ton of cargo,
barges are about 25 percent more efficient than rail and four
times more efficient than trucks.
But in order to keep shipping moving smoothly over the inland
waterways, the nation needs to invest in the lock and dam systems
that make barge traffic possible. That infrastructure has been
deteriorating for years, while the funding stream for repairs and
maintenance was tied up by a few costly projects.
The Water Resources Reform Development Act in 2014 has done much
to improve that picture, industry representatives say. But there
is still a great deal of work to be done, and some of the projects
are still decades away.
As our region works to build its position in shipping and
logistics, it is critical to remember that the inland waterways
are still one of our greatest assets, and our representatives in
Washington need to champion efforts to upgrade the waterways