EDITORIAL: Container barges

Announcement of $1.76 million in funding for a container barge capacity-building program between Port Itawamba (Fulton) on the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway and the Port of Mobile strongly illustrates the role international commerce plays in our region’s business operations.
The grant, announced by Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., sets in motion a three-point plan for enhancing inland and intra-coastal waterway capacity from Texas to Virginia, a long-term goal with multiple studies and recommendations backing its economic potential.
The money also will help expand “marine highway” operation in the Gulf of Mexico between Texas and Florida and one on the East Coast between Richmond and Hampton Roads in Virginia, the U.S. Maritime Administration said in a statement released Sept. 20.
The three undertakings all are set against the background of Panama Canal expansion and a demonstration of the efficiencies in long-distance and high-capacity barge transport:
- The Tenn-Tom Waterway Pilot Project will help purchase and modify nine barges for a new container transportation service on an all-water route between Port Itawamba and the Port of Mobile designed to eliminate more than 4,400 truck trips annually.
- The Cross Gulf Container Expansion Project will aid the Ports of Brownsville, Texas and Manatee, Fla., with $3.34 million to help modify two barges and purchase equipment that will result in diesel fuel savings of nearly 70,000 gallons per one-way trip, 2.7 million gallons each year, and save 18 million miles annually.
- The James River Container Expansion Project, sponsored by The Virginia Port Authority, was awarded $1.1 million for the purchase of two barges that will remove gridlock from some of the 130,000 trucks traveling between the Hampton Roads container terminals and rail terminals. The existing container-on-barge service between Hampton Roads and Richmond, Va., will grow to three sailings each week.
In August, the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway Development Authority, headquartered in Columbus, signed a two-year memorandum of understanding with the Panama Canal Authority pledging cooperation to promote the Tombigbee waterway as an international trade route.
The Tenn-Tom is a 234-mile manmade shipping channel that connects the Tombigbee and Tennessee rivers, linking ports in Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky.
Texas and Louisiana each ship over $10 billion worth of cargo annually, while Illinois, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Alabama, each ship between $2 billion and $10 billion annually.
The economic impact stands to increase significantly with availability of the most-preferred method for shipping many products and raw materials.

NEMS Daily Journal