I found this article in the Battle Creek Inquirer today.
The Soo Locks in Sault Ste. Marie are scheduled to open three weeks from today, signaling the traditional start of the Great Lakes shipping season.
Unfortunately, it appears that there won't be a boatload of traffic. Many freighters don't expect to return to the Great Lakes until later in the spring, as the recession slows demand for shipment of materials.
Dismal as the economic picture appears, there is reason for hope when it comes to Great Lakes shipping.
National interest is being revived in promoting marine highways. Expanded use of the nation's 25,000 miles of navigational waterways could help to alleviate truck traffic on congested roadways while at the same time providing a more fuel-efficient and environmentally friendly means of transport.
For example, one cargo container on a barge removes a truck from crowded highways. A 15-barge tow can contain as much material as 1,050 tractor-trailers, according to the Associated Press. A barge uses only one gallon of diesel to move a ton of cargo 576 miles. That same amount of fuel only moves a ton of cargo 413 miles by rail, and 155 miles by truck.
Tugboat companies are showing signs of growth along the Atlantic coast, offering the prospect for similar expansion along the St. Lawrence Seaway and into the Great Lakes.
There are hurdles to clear in making short-sea shipping competitive with other forms of transportation. Not the least of these is the need to update locks to accommodate increased freight traffic, a venture that would cost tens of billions of dollars. Rail and truck shippers also don't face as many hefty fees, such as harbor maintenance taxes.
But with heavy truck traffic becoming a growing concern on our nation's highways, and the push for better fuel efficiency, promoting greater use of our Great Lakes waterways for shipping could help bolster Michigan's economy in the years ahead.