Water Transport Deserves to Workby Editors
Capital Press - September 6, 2002
The great water transportation resources of the West deserve to work harder.
Shippers and carriers who use the waterways know the efficiencies well, but for some reason the huge advantages in costs and environmental impact don't convert to more barge traffic.
One gallon of diesel fuel will carry a ton of cargo about 59 miles by truck. Put the same ton on a railcar, and the gallon of fuel will carry it 202 miles. But load that ton on a barge and it can go about 514 miles.
The advantages of fuel efficiencies, compiled by the U.S. Department of Transportation, are obvious.
While the tons are traveling, their power sources can't help but pollute. Chalk up another advantage for water transport. A towboat puts out nearly 1.5 ounces of hydrocarbon to carry a ton of cargo 1,000 miles, says the Environmental Protection Agency. But a train produces five times that, and a truck turns out seven times as much as the towboat to move that ton of cargo 1,000 miles. For carbon monoxide and nitrous oxide, the towboat advantage over trucks widens even more.
So why don't more tons travel on the water?
An Oregon industry and government coalition says one reason is that government policies tend to encourage industrial development near interstate and other highways rather than near the coast; its examples show that the same applies to industrial development that could capitalize on inland waterway traffic.
The Oregon coalition sets a good example for government and industry groups across the West. Representatives from the Oregon Department of Agriculture, port districts and tug and bare companies are working together. They aim to get the attention of state officials who influence decisions on funding for highway and other transportation projects. Transportation is critical to the location of industrial projects -- including agriculture and food operations that provide markets for farmers and ranchers.
Enticing industrial and other development is a prime goal for many government entities -- even if it means overcoming obvious advantages like barge efficiency. those efforts may make sense in using mobile labor resources, and building tax bases, but they may not make so much sense in other ways. These same entities may find new ways to capitalize on nearby water transportation.
According to waterways officials, the Columbia-Snake system is handling only 40 percent of the barge traffic it could handle safely. Shippers and carriers, growers and processors know about the economic efficiencies; given time, economics would move business toward the more efficient, lower-cost options.
If the agencies that influence transportation and development projects would make choices that capitalize on those efficiencies, agriculture and other industries could make better use of efficient, competitive transportation. In a competitive country and world, the West needs to use all its advantages.
The waterways are ready and running; let's let them work for us.
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