Transportation Planning for the Future
MOBILE MOVES FREIGHT
Mobile is blessed with abundant and flexible ground and air based freight transportation systems, and it is doubly so because of our very extensive waterway connections. East and West, the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) connects Texas to Florida with protected passage for barge freight. Virtually on the ICW, Mobile also easily connects to New Orleans and the Mississippi River.
Alabama by itself has over 1,200 miles of navigable waterways carrying some 20 million tons of freight annually. The Warrior – Tombigbee system connects Birmingham with Mobile and the Gulf Coast. The Alabama River does the same for Selma and Montgomery. Additionally, the Tennessee – Tombigbee River system (Tenn-Tom) provides a direct connection at the corners of Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee to the Tennessee River and through to the Ohio River. This man made canal saves 800 miles between mid America and the East Gulf compared with having to transverse the Mississippi to New Orleans and East. Cost savings are thus estimated at $90 million per year. Some 8 million tons, or 1.3 billion ton-miles, pass annually through this system to or from Alabama, much of it impacting Mobile.
Barge freight is acknowledged as the lowest cost, safest, and most energy efficient way to move freight, yet our waterways are underutilized. One barge carries the equivalent tonnage of 58 trucks or 15 railcars; 1 gallon of fuel moves a barge 514 miles compared to 202 via rail or 59 miles via truck. It is estimated carbon monoxide and hydrocarbon emissions would increase 7 times if Tenn-Tom tonnage alone were converted to rail and 9 times if by truck.
With fuel costs high and as EPA emission standards tighten, this vital transportation mode is also included in our overall studies and plans.
Graph Source: USACE Waterborne Commerce Statistic Center