Waterways System


The inland waterways system includes 12,000 miles of commercially navigable channels and some 240 lock sites. These “inland highways” move commerce to and from 38 states, serve industrial and agricultural centers and facilitate imports and exports at gateway ports.


By safely and cost-effectively moving America’s cargo, barge transportation makes a vital contribution to our nation’s economy, environment and quality of life. In 2014, 604 million tons of waterborne cargo transited the inland waterways, a volume equal to roughly 14% of all intercity freight and valued at nearly $232 billion.

Barges are ideal for hauling bulk commodities and moving oversized or overweight equipment, including:

  • Coal
  • Iron & Steel
  • Chemicals
  • Petroleum
  • Grain
  • Aggregates
  • Project Cargoes
  • Intermodal Containers


America’s economy benefits from the cost efficiencies barge transport provides over transport by truck or rail. Approximately 60% of the nation’s grain exports move by barge, helping our agricultural exports stay competitive in global markets. Barge transport also keeps our nation’s vital energy sources flowing, fueling our industrial base and keeping our high-tech economy running. In fact, more than 22% of domestic petroleum and petroleum products and 20% of the coal used in electricity generation transit our inland waterways.

America’s safe, reliable and efficient inland river transportation system is the envy of the world. With world-wide demand for waterborne commerce expected to more than double by the year 2025, our nation needs a strategic vision and must invest in the waterways infrastructure needed to maintain America’s economic competitiveness.

Waterways and ports support jobs throughout the nation and directly contribute to states’ economies. Smart investment in this vital system will help create jobs and keep our economy growing. Click below for state jobs and economic impact data from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce:
To see all 50 states, click here.
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