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The continued growth in freight movements within the U.S land transportation network has reached a point where alternative means of augmenting its capacity should be investigated. Market demand factors such as door-to-door and just-in-time delivery have contributed to the strong growth in both road and rail transport sectors. This heavy reliance on ground transport has resulted in increased traffic congestion, worsened bottlenecks throughout the network, road deterioration, air pollution, highway accidents, and fuel consumption. The integration of the inland waterway network into our current intermodal transportation system could serve as an alternative to long haul freight movements and alleviate some of these negative impacts.

The U.S. Department of Transportation and the Maritime Administration (MARAD) have recently placed new importance on shifting freight movements, particularly containers, to the nation’s waterways by creating a priority federal program: North American Marine Highways. MARAD hopes to demonstrate that the nation’s inland waterways can serve as an additional transportation system to landside modes for container transport to relieve congestion and reduce demand on landside intermodal connectors and highway infrastructure.

This study has analyzed successful Inland Waterway Container Transport (IWCT) systems in Europe and in select U.S. locations. Further, it assessed the feasibility of IWCT within the Mississippi River trade corridor. The study addresses the potential benefits of IWCT in the US as identified in the literature review, the challenges and limiting factors which have inhibited its development to date, and examines the differences between IWCT development in the US (negligible) and in Europe, where IWCT is a small but rapidly growing and successful sector of certain freight networks. Based on the analysis and findings, the study concludes that IWCT has sufficient landside infrastructure in place or pending to resume service almost immediately. The major hurdles are all market related: unbalanced trade flows; insufficient north bound containers; the absence of a “Multi-Port Complex” with a 1M TEU annual capacity. The project concludes with policies and programs that seek to guide future investment decision-making by the Regional Planning Commission (the Metropolitan Planning Organization for the New Orleans region) as well as the Louisiana legislature and other state departments. The study also highlights the resiliency factors associated with inland waterway transportation at local, state and national levels.


The preparation of this report has been financed in part by the Regional Planning Commission for Jefferson, Orleans, Plaquemines, St. Bernard and St. Tammany Parishes using Federal Highway Administration annual planning funds (PL) and by the Gulf Coast Research Center for Evacuation and Transportation Resiliency, a University Transportation Center collaboration between Louisiana State University and the University of New Orleans, using U.S. DOT research funds.