The Department of Transportation has designated the container-on-vessel program as an official project, paving the way for significant change in how River commerce is conducted.  To mark the occasion, St. Louis’ Mayor Slay recently received the certificate of designation from the Maritime Administrator Paul Jaenichen in St. Louis. Slay is part of the Mississippi River Cities & Towns Initiative (MRCTI), a mayor-led effort comprised of 68 River Mayors committed to creating a coordinated voice for the Mississippi River, which led the push for the program.

"Our cities suffer from considerable surface transportation congestion which is taking its toll on the infrastructure. That’s why we must start using our inland waterway system better. DOT’s support is a significant step forward for starting a container-on-vessel program on the Mississippi River,” said Mayor Francis Slay, a founding MRCTI member.

Co-Chair AC Wharton, Mayor of Memphis commented: “A container-on-vessel program will help us move goods along the River and throughout the nation in a much more efficient way.  The progress in getting the program moving shows the power of strong partnerships.”

“This is an important step. By creating a shift in how business is done, the ramifications will be profound for the health and vitality of the River and the whole U.S. economy,” explained MRCTI Co-Chair Roy Buol, Mayor of Dubuque, IA.

Designation as an official DOT project means that the U.S. Maritime Administration can help coordinate the container-on-vessel shipping under the Administration’s MARAD Marine Highway Program. This designation will allow the existing public private partnership to become eligible for Federal grant funds as well as technical assistance. Most importantly, however, the organized process and coordination that comes with MARAD project designation can add the most value by keeping the effort focused, on track, and organized.

Container-on-vessel shipping is a common way to distribute goods in other parts of the world, including Europe and China. This form of shipping involves specially made cargo ships capable of carrying hundreds of truck size containers. Containerization will create significant efficiencies in the transportation of goods and services and relieve freight bottlenecks on the River which cost the American economy $200 billion annually.  Currently the River is mostly used to transport raw goods and materials by barge. 

The Mississippi River corridor is overly dependent on truck and rail for freight. In fact, one fully loaded semi wears on roads as much as 6,400 cars.  According to the DOT, the U.S. freight transportation system moved more than 17.6 billion tons of goods valued at $16.8 trillion in 2011. The Maritime Administration predicts the U.S. will need to move an additional 14 billion tons of cargo by 2050 to accommodate population growth—almost double current levels. The only solution to meet that growth is by utilizing the inland waterway system through a container-on-vessel effort.

Mayor Larry Brown of Natchez, MS explained: "Our inland waterway infrastructure is critical to our nation's economy and yet it is not being used to its fullest potential. The mayors see the potential for our cities and that is why we have acted."

The container-on-vessel effort was initially unveiled by MRCTI in fall 2013 at the Mississippi River Economy Summit held in Memphis.  The effort builds from the container shipping line previously run from Memphis to New Orleans and about to be revived by the IL Soybean Association.  Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., Chism Hardy Investments, Ingram Barge Company, Inland Rivers, Ports and Terminals were early supporters of this effort, which is expected to relieve freight congestion, create economic opportunity for River ports and other intermodal industries, and attract investment in River infrastructure.

MRCTI is an effort to bring national attention back to the Mississippi River—America’s most critical natural asset—and cultivate a new level of regional cooperation to make it more sustainable.  As the ecological linchpin to the 37-state Mississippi River Basin, the River is responsible for creating $200 billion worth of U.S. GDP; providing drinking water for more than 20 million; transporting 40 percent of the nation’s agricultural output; delivering nearly 400 tons of coal and petroleum products; and directly supporting one million jobs and millions more indirectly.

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