One of the oldest forms of commodity transportation, waterborne commerce remains an important element in the transportation sector of the United States. In 1980, foreign and domestic commerce totaled 1,105.6 billion ton-miles on U.S. lakes, rivers, and coastal waters. Of these, 406.9 billion ton-miles were on the inland waterways, including 96.0 billion on the Great Lakes, 228.9 billion on the Mississippi River system, and 81.9 billion on the coastal waterways. Most of this traffic94 percent-consisted of barges, the rest of boats and tankers. 1
Barges on the waterways are primarily used for transportation of nonperishable, bulk commodities having low value to mass ratios, such as coal or grains. The relative percentages of each commodity in domestic and foreign waterborne commerce in 1980 are shown in figure 6-1. Waterways provide industries with routes to markets and ports for export, the particular commodity depending on the region. For example, iron and steel from western Pennsylvania travel on the Monongahela and Allegheny rivers, coal from West Virginia and Kentucky travels down the Ohio River, and grains from Northwest farms travel down the Columbia and Snake rivers.