2016-11-03 / News

Senators Push To Increase Great Lakes Shipping, Travel

A push to double the utilization of Great Lakes cargo and cruise traffic is being made as a way to boost the economy and open new markets in the Great Lakes basin. Toward that end, the federal Department of Transportation is being asked by a group of U.S. senators from the basin to analyze barriers to new growth, the most significant being the locks at Sault Ste. Marie, which the senators call a bottleneck to economic vitality and threat to existing shipping. Michigan Senators Gary Peters and Debbie Stabenow are among those asking Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx to assist.

Mr. Fox is being asked to lay the groundwork for a Great Lakes – St. Lawrence maritime transportation system developed at a regional international conference to boost shipping.

The strategy, according to the senators, is “a blend of policies, programs and projects to rejuvenate the regional maritime system … by increasing efficiency, reducing costs, and encouraging new markets” for cruise ships, containers, and other shipping.

They contend the transportation system in the Great Lakes, while a major national transportation asset, is “significantly under-utilized and operating at an estimated 50% of its full capacity.”

In a letter to Transportation Secretary Foxx asking him to undertake the project, nine senators wrote, in part: “One well documented bottleneck is at the Soo Locks, where nearly 70% of cargo vessels are forced to use the Poe Lock. A recent study found that closure of this Lock would have devastating economic consequences. However, there are also many lesser known bottlenecks in the region that reduce efficiency and increase the cost of maritime transportation. For example, the St. Marys River is authorized to be maintained to a depth of 27 feet. If it is not maintained, ships must lighten their loads for their entire Great Lakes voyage to be able to traverse this shallower depth. A complete, system-wide analysis would identify all such constraints and help determine where future investment will yield the greatest benefit.”

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