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Federal grants aim to boost container shipping on Mississippi River

Hazy photo of the Mississippi River with a tugboat and the Gateway Arch in the distance.
Paul Sableman | Wikimedia Commons
Five of the six Marine Highway Grants awarded by the US Department of Transportation are geared for increasing container-on-barge services.

The U.S. Department of Transportation is funding efforts to increase container-on-barge traffic along the Mississippi River. 

Federal and local officials on Monday announced six Marine Highway Grants, including two aimed at boosting freight at the Port of St. Louis and America’s Central Port in Granite City.

Increasing containers on the nation’s inland waterways will be necessary to meet increasing demand over the next 30 years, said U.S. Department of Transportation Maritime Administrator Paul “Chip” Jaenichen.

“It’s really not a matter of 'if', it’s a matter of 'when.' 85 percent of all freight that’s moving domestically is moving on our roads and our rails. That is just not sustainable from a congestion stand point. We’re going to have to incorporate water into that transportation freight network,” he said.

According to Jaenichen, about 6 percent of the total domestic freight market takes place on inland waterways.  

America’s Central Port is getting $713,000 for a program to shuttle containers along the Illinois River between Granite City and Channahon, Illinois, near Chicago.

Also, the Port Authority of St. Louis will work with a $96,000 grant to encourage container-on-barge freight among major shippers like Walmart, Home Depot and Target. The effort involves a partnership with the Inland River Port & Terminal Association, the Upper Mississippi River Basin Association and the Mississippi River Cities & Towns Initiative.

MRCTI Executive Director Colin Wellenkamp said the grant will help them work with companies that forward and assemble freight packages for large retail stores.

Fostering more U.S. freight capacity is needed to meet growing demand which is estimated to increase 45 percent by 2050, he said.

“The only way to do that is either build a bunch of new roads, a bunch of new bridges, and a bunch of new rail, which doesn’t seem like there’s an appetite at the national level for that. Or, we use something we already have sitting there waiting, which is the nation’s inland waterway system.”

The grant funding is among $5 million worth of federal Marine Highway Grants awarded to boost container-on-barge services. 

Follow Joseph Leahy on Twitter: @joemikeleahy