Maritime Freight Movement in the MRS and GLNS

Table 1 summarizes the volume of the Mississippi River System and Great Lakes Navigation System waterways compared to the total volume of US maritime freight. In 2010, the total volume by weight of US waterborne freight traffic (both domestic and foreign) was more than 2.3 billion short tons. The combined maritime traffic in the Mississippi River System (MRS) and the Great Lakes together accounted for more than a third of all waterborne freight traffic by weight.

Table 1: Domestic and Foreign Maritime Freight: US, MRS, GLNS 2010

United States Mississippi River System Great Lakes
Short Tons (millions) Percent of US Total Short Ton (millions) Percent of US Total Short Tons (millions) Percent of US Total
Total 2,334 100% Total 662 28% Total 130 6%
Foreign 1,441 62% Foreign 187 8% Foreign 41 2%
Domestic 893 38% Domestic 474 20% Domestic 89 4%
Internal Domestic 448 19%

Sources: Waterborne Commerce of the United States Part 5 – National Summaries Calendar Year 2010, Table 1-1; Table 3-1; Table 3-10

Table 2 shows the volume of foreign trade imported and exported in the MRS and GLNS in 2010 compared to the US total, and how they changed from the ten-year average. In 2010, the nation was still recovering from a severe recession.

Table 2: Foreign Maritime Imports and Exports: US, MRS, GLNS 2010

Foreign Maritime Freight – Comparison of Imports and Exports
United States, Mississippi River System, Great Lakes (Millions of Short Tons)
United States Mississippi River System Great Lakes
Inbound Outbound Inbound Outbound Inbound Outbound
Total 2010 883 558 Total 2010 72 116 Total 2010 16.7 24.2
Average ’01-‘10 1,002 446 Average ’01-‘10 84 97 Average ’01-‘10 22 32.9

Sources: Waterborne Commerce of the United States Part 5 – National Summaries Calendar Year 2010,  Table 1-2; Table 3-1; Table 3-10

Table 3 lists the top commodities shipped in the two waterways. Compared to oceanic ports directly engaged in international trade, US domestic waterways are used almost exclusively to carry relatively lower value-to-weight bulk commodities. Maritime shipping of higher value-to-weight products such as large manufactured equipment and containerized goods is almost exclusively limited to coastal ports. As a result, the dollar value of commodities handled at MRS and GLNS ports represents a smaller percentage of the total value of commodities handled at US ports than the maritime tonnage totals indicate.

However, monetary value of commodities handled is not the sole measure of total economic value of maritime shipping to the local, state, or regional economy. The value of maritime shipping can also be measured in the cost savings to shippers, customers, governments, and society. Maritime shipping is more fuel efficient and less labor- and infrastructure-intensive per ton-mile than rail or trucks. It can also impose fewer social costs in the form of harmful emissions and accidents. Domestic waterborne shipping directly and indirectly supports jobs, firm revenues, and government revenues regardless of the cargo. Bulk materials shipped within the MAFC region and elsewhere in the domestic maritime network are vital to value-added industries with strong economic multiplier effects. For example, iron ore, limestone, and coal shipping in the Great Lakes is vital to US steel production and manufacturing. Grain commodities shipped from MAFC ports provide feed for US meat industries outside of the region. Domestic waterways are used to ship fossil fuels and chemicals that sustain economic activity throughout the region.

Table 3: Top Maritime Commodities: US, MRS, GLNS 2010

Mississippi River System Great Lakes
Internal Domestic (millions of tons) Coastal Domestic (millions of tons) Foreign (millions of tons) Domestic (millions of tons) Foreign (millions of tons)
Total 448.4 25.6 188.9 88.6 40.9
Coal 162.0 5.5 9.7 21.7 9.2
Petroleum and Petro Products 74.2 16.1 61.3 1.6 2.2
Chemicals (Fertilizers, Other) 36.8 1.4 17.3 .1 .5
Crude Materials* 81.5 2.3 14.8 61.4 22.4
Food and Farm Products 73.7 .6 77.9 .5 2.9
Primary Manufactured Goods <.1 0 <.1 3.2 3.5
Other 1.1 .0 1.0 .2 .2

*Major subcategories of Crude Materials include Iron Ore, Iron, and Scrap; Sand, Gravel, Clay, Salt, and Slag; Non Ferrous Ores and Scrap; and Lumber, Logs, Chips, and Pulp.

Sources: Waterborne Commerce of the United States Part 5 – National Summaries Calendar Year 2010, Table 3-4, Table 3-10

MAFC Commercial Ports

The US Army Corps of Engineers maintains infrastructure and channels at more than 900 ports and harbors throughout the United States (Figure 1). It maintains 140 ports in the Great Lakes alone, 63 of which are deep-water (authorized depth of 27.5 feet) commercial ports. The remaining ports are shallow-draft recreational ports with authorized depths of less than 14 feet. Most Great Lakes ports are in the MAFC region.

On the IWS, the World Port Source lists more than 102 commercial ports on navigable rivers throughout the Mississippi River Basin, including at least 29 in the MAFC region. In addition, numerous smaller barge terminals–many serving a single firm or customer–are located along the river ways.

Figure 1: Federal Commercial Ports

Source: Waterborne Freight Transportation Bottom Line Report

Some of the largest US ports measured by volume of freight handled are located in the MAFC region. Of the nation’s busiest 150 ports, 34 are located in the GLNS and 25 in the MRS. All but one of the large Great Lakes ports (Buffalo, New York) are located in MAFC states. Because, maritime trade in the MRS is more dispersed, fewer of the region’s river ports are among the nation’s largest ports. Nevertheless, river ports at St. Louis, Cincinnati, and other MAFC ports are nationally significant. Only the deep-water, international ports in Louisiana and the coal shipping ports of Huntington, West Virginia (which lies partly in Ohio) and Pittsburg, Pennsylvania are busier. The fact that commercial maritime shipping on the MRS is not concentrated in large ports is an advantage to many shippers because it reduces distances to port and avoids congested urban corridors.

Table 4 shows the number of MAFC ports that are among the top 150 US ports in terms of tonnage in 2010. Table 5 and Table 6 list the largest ports in the MRS and GLNS respectively, along with their respective national rank and total, domestic, and foreign tonnage handled in 2010. Figure 2 and Figure 3 illustrate the location and the total tonnage for the largest ports in the MRS and GLNS.

Table 4: Top 150 Ports: US, MRS, GLNS 2010

Summary of Top Ports by Tonnage Handled 2010
United States, Mississippi River System (MRS), Great Lakes (GLNS), Mid-America Freight Coalition (MAFC)
(Millions of Tons)
Port Name Number of Top 150 Ports Total Tonnage Domestic Tonnage Foreign Tonnage
Imports Exports
Total Top 150 US Ports 150 2,446.4 1,133.8 766.9 545.7
MRS 25 610.0 421.1 72.4 116.5
GLNS 34 207.5 169.8 14.8 22.8
Subtotal MRS and GLNS 60 817.5 590.9 87.2 139.4
MRS Ports in MAFC States 8 63.6 63.6 0 0
GLNS Ports in MAFC States 33 206.2 169.2 14.5 22.5
Subtotal MAFC Ports 41 269.8 232.8 14.5 22.5

Source: Tonnage for Selected US Ports

Table 5: Top MRS and MAFC River Ports 2010

PORT NAME Total Tonnage Handled (U.S. Tons) US Port Rank 2010 Domestic (U.S. Tons) Foreign (U.S. Tons)
South Louisiana, LA, Port of 236,262,069 1 121,110,982 115,151,087
New Orleans, LA 72,410,730 7 38,331,450 34,079,280
Huntington-Tristate, WV 61,521,942 9 61,521,942
Plaquemines, LA, Port of 55,836,687 11 36,927,933 18,908,754
Baton Rouge, LA 55,536,987 13 34,768,822 20,768,165
Pittsburgh, PA* 33,843,362 22 33,843,362
St. Louis, MO and IL 30,772,951 24 30,772,951
Cincinnati, OH 12,708,524 44 12,708,524
Memphis, TN 12,155,049 46 12,155,049
Louisville, KY 6,169,971 67 6,169,971
Mount Vernon, IN 5,629,444 70 5,629,444
St. Paul, MN 4,753,808 75 4,753,808
Vicksburg, MS 3,350,189 82 3,350,189
Greenville, MS 2,714,951 91 2,714,951
Chattanooga, TN* 2,012,662 105 2,012,662
Nashville, TN* 2,001,521 106 2,001,521
Morgan City, LA, Port of 1,986,244 108 1,979,417 6,827
Guntersville, AL 1,820,102 111 1,820,102
Kansas City, MO 1,671,245 114 1,671,245
Rosedale, MS 1,452,391 119 1,452,391
Helena, AR 1,385,190 121 1,385,190
Lake Providence, LA 1,348,703 124 1,348,703
Elvis Stahr Harbor, KY 1,048,522 134 1,048,522
Southeast Missouri Port, MO 890,290 140 890,290
Madison Parish, LA, Port of 734,557 147 734,557
Total Tonnage Handled 610,018,091 421,103,978 188,914,113

Ports in MAFC states in bold and shaded.

Source: Tonnage for Selected US Ports

Table 6: Top GLNS Ports 2010

PORT NAME Total Tonnage Handled (U.S. Tons) US Port Rank 2010 Domestic (U.S. Tons) Foreign (U.S. Tons)
Duluth-Superior, MN and WI 36,598,247 18 26,936,111 9,662,136
Chicago, IL 18,534,237 37 15,381,973 3,152,264
Two Harbors, MN 13,877,097 42 13,391,512 485,585
Detroit, MI 13,406,493 43 10,792,960 2,613,533
Cleveland, OH 10,791,326 48 9,218,274 1,573,052
Toledo, OH 10,720,187 49 3,927,139 6,793,048
Indiana Harbor, IN 10,168,960 50 9,901,838 267,122
Presque Isle, MI 8,720,506 55 6,447,080 2,273,426
St. Clair, MI 7,988,201 58 7,988,201
Gary, IN 7,831,215 59 7,607,812 223,403
Ashtabula, OH 6,346,279 65 3,811,252 2,535,027
Silver Bay, MN 6,190,949 66 6,139,123 51,826
Burns Waterway Harbor, IN 6,055,201 68 5,669,781 385,420
Stoneport, MI 5,648,756 69 5,138,231 510,525
Calcite, MI 4,760,464 74 4,198,791 561,673
Escanaba, MI 4,735,674 76 4,524,033 211,641
Port Inland, MI 4,694,580 77 4,373,191 321,389
Conneaut, OH 3,558,487 80 3,415,307 143,180
Port Dolomite, MI 3,248,590 84 2,703,076 545,514
Marblehead, OH 2,588,092 92 2,170,121 417,971
Milwaukee, WI 2,434,985 96 1,323,427 1,111,558
Monroe, MI 2,412,543 97 2,400,638 11,905
Sandusky, OH 2,304,141 99 990,486 1,313,655
Alpena, MI 2,148,171 101 1,928,496 219,675
Green Bay, WI 1,909,845 109 1,752,408 157,437
Fairport Harbor, OH 1,498,425 117 1,231,809 266,616
Muskegon, MI 1,478,753 118 1,324,547 154,206
Buffalo, NY* 1,298,279 126 610,884 687,395
Buffington, IN 1,128,061 129 865,507 262,554
Drummond Island, MI 1,069,169 131 795,246 273,923
Marquette, MI 1,009,550 136 793,297 216,253
Lorain, OH 852,982 144 645,126 207,856
Grand Haven, MI 762,998 146 695,953 67,045
Huron, OH 716,514 150 716,514
Total Tonnage Handled 207,487,957 169,810,144 37,677,813

All ports but Buffalo are in MAFC States.

Source: Tonnage for Selected US Ports

Figure 2: Top MRS Ports—Inbound and Outbound Tonnage 2010

Figure 3: Top GLNS Ports—Inbound and Outbound Tonnage 2010

MAFC Maritime Freight Movement by Waterway

Table 7 illustrates the extent and total volume of freight movement between various segments of the MRS and between the MRS and the Great Lakes in 2010. Commodity flows between non-MAFC waterways were not included, but are relatively small. The shaded waterway segments indicate those river segments that are partly or completely bordered by MAFC states.

Figure 4 illustrates the relative volume of maritime freight movement by commodity on the major MRS river corridors in 2010. Figure 5 illustrates the flow of commodities between major ports on the Great lakes. Detailed commodity data within the individual Great Lakes and its ports is detailed in Appendices G and H.

In terms of total tonnage moved and handled, a large percentage inland maritime freight is internal to two of the larger MAFC waterways: the Ohio River and the Great Lakes. The Ohio River system is the single busiest waterway in the MRS with 148 million tons of commodities shipped between ports on the same river. Coal is the dominant commodity along with grain and soybean crops, and aggregates such as sand and gravel. The freight movement between the four upper Great Lakes of the GLNS is the second busiest system, moving large quantities of iron ore, coal, limestone, and other commodities.

The most significant pattern of freight movement between two or more waterways in the MRS is the shipment of 73 million tons of commodities (mostly agricultural) from three MAFC waterways (the Upper Mississippi, the Ohio River, and Illinois River) to the deep-water ports in the Lower Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and the Gulf of Mexico. The vast majority of this tonnage was corn, soybeans, and other crops destined for export. In 2003, Louisiana ports handled more than 60 percent of US grain exports and received about 90 percent of export grains by barge.

Table 7: MAFC Maritime Freight Flows by Waterway 2010

Shipped To (Millions of Tons)
Shipped from (Millions of Tons) Great Lakes System (U.S.) Mississippi River – MN to Illinois R. Illinois Waterway Mississippi River: Illinois R. to Ohio R. Missouri River Ohio River System Mississippi River: Ohio R. to Baton Rouge Arkansas River Mississippi River: Baton Rouge to Gulf Tennessee River Mobile River System Gulf Coast East Gulf Coast West
Great Lakes System (U.S) 83.24 0.13 0.64 0.06 0 0.36 0.07 0.02 0.71 0.07 0.02 0.22 0.07
Mississippi River –MN to Illinois R. 0.02 4.55 0.13 0.24 0.07 0.20 0.50 0.02 15.09 0.75 0.04 0.00 0.03
Illinois Waterway 1.29 0.04 5.70 0.24 0 0.73 0.53 0.08 14.64 0.29 0.10 0.02 0.54
Mississippi River: Illinois R. to Ohio R. 0.05 2.64 1.35 1.59 0.12 8.18 11.83 0.29 17.36 0.42 0.31 0.36 1.45
Missouri River 0 0.07 0 0.05 4.23 0 0 0.04 0.04 0.03 0 0 0
Ohio River System 0.16 0.38 0.31 1.92 0 148.83 2.66 0.21 25.95 2.03 1.36 0.98 2.34
Mississippi River: Ohio R. to Baton Rouge 0.03 0.10 0.12 0.13 0 0.55
Arkansas River 0.04 0.01 0.15 0.01 0 0.23
Mississippi River: Baton Rouge to Gulf 1.10 2.89 3.71 1.91 0.06 10.80
Tennessee River 0.08 0.20 0.11 0.06 0 4.84
Mobile River System 0.01 0.01 0.11 0.02 0 0.76
Gulf Coast East 0.00 0.12 0.11 0.07 0.00 0.90
Gulf Coast West 0.37 1.31 1.58 0.78 0.00 5.01

Note: MAFC waterways shaded in gray.

Sources: Region to Region Public Domain Data Base by Origin-2010 and Region to Region Public Domain Data Base by Destination-2010

Figure 4: Volume of Maritime Freight by Commodity MRS 2010

Figure 5: Commodity Flows between Major GLNS Ports

Source: Great Lakes Navigation System

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