The modern-day United States can trace its economic strength and resiliency to the maritime industry, built on a foundation of waterways, canals, locks and barges. The industry remains vital to America’s economy, and is still growing in its impact.
The American Waterways Operators recently released a study documenting the contribution of the American tugboat, towboat and barge industry to the U.S. economy. Developed through a cooperative agreement between AWO and MARAD, and conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers, it quantifies the industry’s impact on U.S. employment, gross domestic product, and taxes, and highlights the rich array of commodities transported on American waterways.
The study delineates how water transport uses 75 percent less energy than trucks and 31 percent less than rail to haul a ton of freight; the tugboat, towboat and barge industry, in turn, are directly responsible for more than 50,000 jobs. And of all the products carried on the nation’s waterways, 69 percent of the lumber, stone and ore, 82.4 percent of petroleum and petroleum products as well as 90 percent of coal are transported by the tugboat, towboat, and barge industry. On a nationwide basis, including direct, indirect, and induced impacts, the industry supported more than 300,000 jobs and $33.8 billion in GDP in 2014.
Energy efficient water transport, therefore, continues to play a pivotal part in our nation’s transportation system and helps make America’s economy more competitive. AWO President and CEO Tom Allegretti pointed out that the dedicated men and women who make up the tugboat, towboat and barge industry have long known, from decades of first-hand experience, the extent to which maritime freight transport serves as a critical pillar of the American economy.
While these numbers are very encouraging, the waterway system faces long-term challenges of an aging and often outmoded maritime infrastructure. The President’s proposed $1 trillion infrastructure package – which includes the nation’s ports and waterways – will explore the potential for private investment by incentivizing public-private partnerships. It will also include common-sense regulatory and administrative policy changes to streamline processes to reduce the amount of time and money required to propose, fund, and complete major infrastructure projects like bridges and ports. Economists estimate costs could be reduced by as much as $427 billion over six years, and the time spent completing a project from 10 years to two.
Restoring our inland waterways could save $227 billion more.
Maritime trade transformed our country from a loose coalition of colonies into a global superpower. As AWO’s new barge study clearly demonstrates, America’s waterways continue to play a pivotal role in our economic competitiveness and success today. The Maritime Administration is committed to working hand-in-hand with AWO’s membership to ensure the continued growth of our tugboat, towboat, and barge industry while revitalizing our maritime infrastructure to boost the economy and create new jobs.