Wooden dams and river jams: U.S. strains to ship record grains
America’s worst traffic jam this fall occurred on the Ohio River, where a line of about 50 miles of boats hauling grains and other products turned into a waterborne parking lot, as ship captains waited for the river to reopen.
Such delays are worsening on the nation’s waterways, which are critical to commerce for the United States, the largest grain exporter in the world. Of the country’s $40 billion in annual grain and soybean exports, about 60 percent is moved by barges on rivers, including the Ohio.
The shutdown, caused by worn or missing sections of a dam, snarled traffic from early September into early November through Locks & Dam No. 52 near Paducah, Kentucky. It was the second shutdown in two months at No. 52, which is among the country’s busiest locks with about $22 billion a year of commodities flowing through it.
The lock, which has been earmarked for replacement by the Army Corps of Engineers for three decades, is one of many choke points along 25,000 miles of waterways used to transport everything from grains to consumer goods to coal.