On April 24, 2015 Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx gave final approval to the M-55/M-35 Container-on-Barge Project to be designated as a Marine Highway Project. According to the United States Maritime Administration, these projects are planned services or expansions of existing services on existing Marine Highway Routes that can provide modal choices to cargo shippers. They benefit the public by reducing transportation costs, air emissions, road maintenance costs, and improving safety.
M-55 and M-35 are the Transportation Department’s designations for the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers, respectively. These rivers reach ten different states, and the newly approved Marine Highway Project is projected to affect cities along not just these two rivers, but also on the Ohio, Missouri, Arkansas, and Red Rivers. It is meant to connect Chicago, Minneapolis, Memphis, St.Louis, and New Orleans, as well as many smaller communities and ports located between these areas.
The project was originally proposed by the Inland Rivers, Ports and Terminals Association along with the U.S. Mayors’ Initiative over a year ago. The intent was to move ocean-going containers by barge on inland rivers in an efficient and cost-effective manner. Together, these two groups worked to identify private and public investors and stakeholders who would benefit from container barge services on the Mississippi and connecting rivers. In 2013, the partnership formed a working group that included Wal-Mart Stores, The Home Depot, Ingram Marine Group, the Illinois Soybean Association, and Chism-Hardy Investments to work towards the goal of gaining approval for the Marine Highway Project.
While recent government policy over the past several years has encouraged the shipping of containers by road and rail, it is believed that this project will increase shipment by barge. With over 12,000 miles of barge-navigable rivers in the United States, increasing shipping capacity along inland rivers is a good choice for both companies looking to save money on shipping costs and the environment. Today, a single 15-tow barge can move the same amount of cargo as 225 railway cars or 1,050 tractor trailers. Movement of goods along the Mississippi and other waterways costs a fraction of the price of other forms of transportation, and the pollution produced by a single barge is minuscule when compared with the pollution produced by rail and road transportation methods.
In addition to the Container-on-Barge Shipping Project, approval was also given for a Potomac River Commuter Ferry and a freight route connecting the eastern Hudson River with the Port Newark Container Terminal.