Sunday, September 14

Marine "Highways" Will Be More Fuel Efficient

But some proposed new "navigable waterways " seem questionable

The Department of Transportation plans to establish a national network of short sea transportation routes as a way of easing congestion on some of the nation's busiest roads, according to GreenCarCongress.

Using the mighty Mississippi seems like a great idea for relatively low carbon transportation, but some of the proposed routes seem just a little fragile for the task of carrying barge traffic.

Navigable waterways running near six interstate routes have been designated by the DOT as "Corridors of the Future":

* I-95 from Florida to the Canadian border
* I-70 in Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio
* I-15 in Arizona, Utah, Nevada, and California
* I-5 in California, Oregon, and Washington
* I-10 from California to Florida
* I-69 from Michigan to Texas.

How "navigable" these waterways truly are remains to be seen. In parts of California, that canal alongside Interstate 5 is not much bigger than a bathtub. You wouldn't want any environmentally hazardous substances in there.

With higher grain production, Missouri producer R.D. James says that barge traffic will become increasingly important for transportation of petroleum and "other energy forms".

“Pipelines and railroads are already at maximum capacity, and building new facilities is difficult because of environmental and other regulatory requirements."

“Barges are a far more economical method of shipping than rail or truck," James said. "The nation’s shippers save $3 billion a year by moving their goods by barge. The typical barge can move 750,000 bushels of corn; that same amount would require 870 trucks.”

Bulk shipments of fertilizer, grain and coal, as well as iron ore, alumina, DRI and HBI, ferro alloys, ferrous scrap, pig iron, steel slabs and coils, metallurgican and petroleum coke and wood chips, all need barges to get to market.

The United States already moves about 1 billion tons of domestic cargo a year by water: more than 25,000 miles of inland, intra-coastal and coastal waterways. But 92 percent still gets there by road and rail.

The real benefit of using waterways instead of freeways, of course, is that this is a low-carbon way to move stuff. Before the age of oil, we built most towns and cities by rivers. Barge transportation burns far less fuel per ton of product transported than, say, an 18-wheeler.

But the Department Of Transportation is not citing carbon emissions as the rationale. Their decision is focused on traffic. The DOT estimates that congestion on roads, bridges, railways and in certain ports costs the United States as much as $200 billion a year.

“These (water) highways have no stoplights, traffic or potholes,” said Deputy Secretary Barrett, in this press release. “Sometimes transportation solutions require new concrete, but other times the answer is as simple as using existing water.”

In the twilight of this very anti-environmental administration, perhaps it is not so much the lack of "stoplights, traffic or potholes" that is the benefit of water transport. Instead it's the freedom to transport whatever "other energy supplies" informed citizens might object to sharing a freeway with.

The DOT plan is up for public review and goes into effect after a 120-day comment period. If you have a canal running behind your house, perhaps you have an interest in what floats by out there. Now is the time to discover just what that might be.

Photo by flikr user MNkiteman

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