Top Commodities by Waterway

This section provides more detail on the volumes and types of commodities shipped in MAFC-adjacent waterways.

The Ohio River (Main Stem)

The Ohio River carries more freight than any other river in the MAFC region. Coal accounts for approximately half of waterborne freight volume. The river provides a direct connection between eastern coal producing regions (Appalachians, Kentucky, and Illinois) and power stations throughout the MRS. Other major products include crude materials, food and farm products (primarily corn and soybeans), and petroleum. The largest Ohio River ports in the MAFC region include Cincinnati, OH, Louisville, KY, and Mount Vernon, IN. The river also connects two of the largest shipping ports in the United States (Pittsburgh, PA and Huntington, WV) with the deep-water ports in Gulf of Mexico and provides an outlet for the Tennessee River and other southern commercial waterways.

Ohio DOT has been active in support of the M-70 corridor that includes the Ohio River connecting to the Mississippi, and then to the Missouri River. M-70 is intended to replicate the container and roll-on/roll-off (RORO) movements on the parallel I-70 corridor.

Table 1: Top Commodities—Ohio River 2010

Receipts (US Tons) Shipments (US Tons) Intra -waterway (US Tons) Through (US Tons) Total (US Tons)
Coal 29,828,736 23,582,063 58,506,991 10,828,436 122,746,226
Crude Materials, Inedible Except Fuels 8,163,221 8,880,469 18,838,008 14,443,065 50,324,763
Food and Farm Products 436,511 11,689,194 128,767 2,647,985 14,902,457
Petroleum and Petroleum Products 2,201,326 3,303,846 5,587,377 3,087,218 14,179,767
Chemicals (Fertilizer, Non, Fertilizer) 5,284,934 614,744 309,749 3,557,669 9,767,096
Primary Manufactured Goods 2,519,885 1,571,665 2,644,577 1,811,891 8,548,018
All Manufactured Equipment, Machinery 59,229 15,853 9000 41,108 125,190
Total All 48,493,842 49,657,834 86,024,469 36,417,372 220,593,517

Source: Cargo by Waterways

Upper Mississippi River (Minneapolis to the Mouth of the Ohio River)

Corn, soybeans, and other grains are shipped from through the Corn Belt states of Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota and other Midwest states; primarily to the deep-water ports in the Gulf of Mexico. Eastern coal is shipped to power plants on and near the river. Crude materials, chemicals, petroleum products are also significant. The Upper Mississippi River is anchored by the Twin Cities ports of Minneapolis/St. Paul in the north and ports of St. Louis, MO and Elvis Stahr, KY in the south. Much of the shipping in the Upper Mississippi River originates at dozens of smaller community and rural river terminals rather than large ports.

Championed by Illinois DOT, five state DOTs (Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Missouri, and Illinois) have partnered to support designation of M-35 (Waterway of the Saints) to replicate the container and RORO movements on the parallel highway facilities. The Waterway of the Saints designation also completes the corridor-wide designation for the Mississippi River throughout the MAFC region. In addition, on February 14, 2014, these five states submitted a formal marine highway designation application for the Waterway of the Saints to the USDOT Maritime Administration.

Table 2: Top Commodities—Mississippi River 2010

Receipts (US Tons) Shipments (US Tons) Intra -waterway (US Tons) Through (US Tons) Total (US Tons)
Food and Farm Products 254,051 26,077,889 195,580 15,756,727 42,284,247
Coal 1,937,924 17,615,539 3,986,932 454,737 23,995,132
Crude Materials, Inedible Except Fuels 2,565,108 7,455,573 3,029,455 2,254,452 15,304,588
Chemicals (Fertilizer, Non, Fertilizer) 4,108,826 1,799,147 199,354 4,530,110 10,637,437
Petroleum and Petroleum Products 1,076,603 2,828,213 514,231 4,001,382 8,420,429
Primary Manufactured Goods 314,586 3,586,624 1,415,787 2,035,172 7,352,169
All Manufactured Equipment, Machinery 11,181 20,715 0 221,434 253,330
Total All 10,268,279 59,383,700 9,341,339 29,254,014 108,247,332

Source: Cargo by Waterways

Illinois River

A tributary of the Mississippi River, the Illinois River also provides the regions only water access to the Great Lakes via the canals near Chicago. Corn, soybeans, and other crops shipped down river to deep-water ports in the Gulf of Mexico largest category of commodity. Petroleum, chemicals, and crude materials are also significant.

Missouri DOT has partnered with Illinois DOT to designate the Illinois River and portions of the Mississippi River as the M-55 marine highway.

Table 3: Top Commodities—Illinois River 2010

Receipts (US Tons) Shipments (US Tons) Intra -waterway (US Tons) Through (US Tons) Total (US Tons)
Food and Farm Products 182,691 13,040,054 128,249 488,102 13,839,096
Petroleum and Petroleum Products 1,099,777 2,582,827 108,239 1,773,871 5,564,714
Chemicals (Fertilizer, Non, Fertilizer) 2,464,032 938,639 51,360 1,236,332 4,690,363
Crude Materials, Inedible Except Fuels 1,223,429 269,909 0 1,333,123 2,826,461
Primary Manufactured Goods 768,588 66,997 0 1,825,903 2,661,488
Coal 634,627 28,331 1,317,465 256,144 2,236,567
All Manufactured Equipment, Machinery 26,760 0 0 196,074 222,834
Total All 6,399,904 16,926,757 1,605,313 7,109,549 32,041,523

Source: Cargo by Waterways

Missouri River (Kansas City to Mississippi River)

The lower Missouri River is anchored by the ports of Kansas City at the western end of the state and the Mississippi River at the eastern end. Over the last several decades, commercial traffic on the Missouri River has declined significantly in spite of the fact that commercial navigation requires no locks and dams and the river provides efficient access to corn and wheat producing states. The river has become primarily an internal state waterway used for the shipment of crude materials (stone, sand, gravel, etc.) used in infrastructure and other projects.

Missouri DOT has been quite active with their partnering state agencies (Department of Natural Resources and Economic Development) in support of redeveloping the Missouri River as an active freight corridor. Beginning in 2009 MoDOT initiated the Missouri River Freight Corridor Re-development Project. MoDOT’s continues to support efforts for navigation on the river and provides leadership and support for the Missouri River as part of the M-70 corridor.

Table 4: Top Commodities—Missouri River 2010

Receipts (US Tons) Shipments (US Tons) Intra -waterway (US Tons) Through (US Tons) Total (US Tons)
Crude Materials, Inedible Except Fuels 526,195 162,272 3,569,880 0 4,258,347
Petroleum and Petroleum Products 111,200 0 0 6,712 117,912
Primary Manufactured Goods 76,439 0 0 0 76,439
Chemicals (Fertilizer, Non, Fertilizer) 54,250 2,850 0 14,401 71,501
Food and Farm Products 0 39,285 0 31,783 71,068
Coal 0 0 0 0 0
All Manufactured Equipment, Machinery 0 0 0 0 0
Total All 768,084 204,407 3,569,880 52,896 4,595,267

Source: Cargo by Waterways

US Great Lakes

Table 5 summarizes the volume of US maritime shipping in each lake. Six MAFC states have direct access to one or more of the four upper Great Lakes (Superior, Michigan, Huron, and Erie). The majority of shipping occurs in the four Upper Great Lakes because of the constraint imposed by the Niagara River between Lake Erie and Lake Ontario. The Welland Canal connecting Lake Erie to Lake Ontario and locks in the St. Lawrence Seaway limits the size of cargo vessel to lengths of 740 feet and widths of 80 feet (so called “Seaway Max” sized vessels). In contrast, navigation channels connecting the four upper Great Lakes can accommodate larger vessels up to 1000+ feet in length (known as “Lakers”). There are fewer constraints in the upper lakes, though passage of these larger ships between Lake Superior and the lower lakes is dependent on a single lock at Sault St. Marie, Michigan.

Table 5: Total Maritime Tonnage by Great Lakes (2010)

Total Tonnage 2010 (‘000 Tons) Average Total Tonnage ’06 – ’10 (‘000 Tons) Tonnage Shipped 2010 (‘000 Tons) Tonnage Received 2010 (‘000 Tons) Intraport Tonnage 2010 (‘000 Tons)
Lake Superior/St. Mary’s River 67,239 69,653 58,966 8,202 71
Lake Michigan 61,784 73,098 17,078 40,794 3,912
Lake Huron/St Clair/Detroit River 41,328 45,169 17,214 24,047 67
Lake Erie/Niagra River 43,732 47,568 15,511 25,683 2,538
Lake Ontario/St. Lawrence Seaway 577 686 0 108,769 0
Totals 214,661 236,174 108,769 99,304 6,588

Source: Waterborne Commerce of the United States–Part 3

Table 6 summarizes the major commodities handled by US Great Lakes ports in 2010. Lake Superior is a net shipper of exporter of bulk commodities, while the other Great Lakes are net recipients. The USACE states that 80 percent of the iron ore used in the US steel industry is transported from Minnesota and Upper Michigan on the Great Lakes (USACE, 2009). USACE. “The Great Lakes Navigation System: Economic Strength of the Nation.” 2009. Coal, much of it from the Powder Basin in the western United States, is shipped by rail to Port of Duluth- Superior for distribution throughout the Great Lakes. Western low-sulfur, met coal is valued for lower emissions and greater efficiency in steel smelting. Limestone, much of it quarried in Michigan, is shipped to Lake Superior for iron ore processing and elsewhere in the Great Lakes for cement production, steel production, and other purposes. Other Great Lakes commodities include cement, salt, lime, chemicals, petroleum, and food and farm products. Most agricultural products shipped on the Great Lakes are overseas exports shipped from Toledo, Duluth-Superior, Milwaukee, and a few other ports.

With six of the Great Lakes border states in the MAFC region, these states are well represented on a variety of Great Lakes Marine highway designations. Marine highways 71, 75, 77, 90 (and St. Lawrence Seaway) and M-94 are all supported by the adjacent state DOTs.

Table 6: Top Commodities GLNS 2010

Total Tonnage 2010 (‘000 Tons) Average Total Tonnage ’06 – ’10 (‘000 Tons) Tonnage Shipped 2010 (‘000 Tons) Tonnage Received 2010 (‘000 Tons) Intraport Tonnage 2010 (‘000 Tons)
Iron Ore and Scrap 87,913 88,877 44,843 40,706 2,364
Coal 49,982 56,840 27,757 19,767 2,459
Limestone 42,313 47,212 21,384 20,911 18
Primary Non-Metal Manufactured Products 7,049 8,793 2,300 4,748
Petroleum Products 6,907 7,496 3,676 2,758 472
Other Non-Metal Minerals and Wood 6,851 7,993 1,390 5,216 246
Sand, Gravel, Clay, Salt, Slag, excluding Limestone 4,735 7,826 1,463 2,326 947
Food and Farm Products 3,808 4,450 2,913 896
Primary Metal Manufactured Products 2,729 3,882 383 2,340 6
Chemicals, excluding Fertilizers 1,447 1,878 472 900 75
Chemical Fertilizers 371 338 15 357
Manufactured Equipment, Machinery 297 200 17 279 1
Non-Ferrous Metal Ore and Scrap 218 383 2 215
Unknown 76 82 17 59
Total 214,697 236,249 106,631 101,478 6,588

Source: Waterborne Commerce of the United States–Part 3

Includes both foreign and domestic shipping for the largest 74 ports for which USACE maintains data. Tonnage handled is greater than actual tonnage of commodities owing to double counting of commodities both shipped and received to US ports.

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