Are Barges Moving On The Mississippi River

The Mississippi river is one of the most iconic rivers in the world, stretching for 3,785 km from the south of Missouri, through the middle of the USA, all the way to Louisiana, where it flows into the Gulf of Mexico. Throughout it’s entire length, the Mississippi serves as an important industrial artery, effectively connecting the major cities of the US’s Midwest with the rest of the country. Much of the traffic on the river happens in barges, large boats loaded with cargo, representing an essential part of the US economy.
Barges are one of the main methods by which goods are transported down the Mississippi and, as a consequence, they have had a major impact on the river. A barge typically has a length of about 175 feet (53m) and a width of 35 feet (11m), or occasionally more, depending on the size of the cargo. One of the most important aspects of barge transport is the efficiency with which it can transport goods, meaning it is much cheaper than alternative methods. On average, one barge can transport just as much cargo as 15 train cars, and two barges will achieve the same level of efficiency as 250 light trucks.
An additional benefit of barge transport is its low impact on the environment, resulting in fewer emissions and fuel usage. Compared to other modes of transport, such as road and railway, barges use significantly less fuel, meaning that the emissions can be kept much lower. The US Environmental Protection Agency stated that in 2018 transportation accounted for more than 70% of the total US emissions of sulfur dioxide, and around 40% of nitrogen oxide, and this reduction in emissions is significant when it comes to barge transport.
In addition, the barge can move cargo much more quickly than other modes of transport, which is particularly beneficial when frequent or regular trips need to be made. It is possible for a barge to travel up to 2,000 miles in just one week; this is nearly five times further than the same journey made on land. As a result, it is much more efficient for transporting goods from source to destination, making it the preferred option for large-scale shipments.
The use of barge transport on the Mississippi river is also beneficial for businesses because the river is an important economic artery for the city and region, meaning that the barges can transport goods between the various major cities on the river with relative ease. This effectively reduces the cost and time of transport – it becomes much cheaper to move goods between points in the Midwest than elsewhere in the US.
Moreover, barge transport on the Mississippi is also more cost-effective than trucking, as it is generally more fuel-efficient and requires fewer personnel. Because of this, businesses can save on costs, allowing them to compete in the increasingly competitive markets.

Impact On Local Communities

The use of barges on the Mississippi river has had an undeniable impact on local communities. Besides the reduced cost and efficiency, the impact of barges can be seen in the employment opportunities provided by the industry. As local communities are able to take advantage of the barges, they can use this as a form of economic development.
Barge traffic is one of the most important drivers of economic activity in the region, providing both direct and indirect employment to local residents. For example, skilled engineers and technicians are employed to service, repair and build the barges needed for transport. In addition, there are a plethora of job opportunities in the local ports, restaurants and hotels.
The direct economic benefits of barge transport can also be seen in the fact that businesses shipping goods down the Mississippi do not need to pay for the express delivery service for which companies choose roads and railroads. The Mississippi provides an excellent opportunity for businesses to transport their goods with a lower cost per mile.
Furthermore, barge transport is capable of reaching ports and other areas not accessible by other forms of transportation; this is especially helpful for farmers to ship their goods to foreign markets. As a result, the economic benefits of barge transport are seen in virtually all aspects of the local economy.

Environmental Hazards

Despite the numerous economic benefits, there are some environmental hazards associated with barge transport on the Mississippi river. The barges need to be regularly maintained and repaired in order to avoid oil and chemicals spills. In addition, the removal of invasive species is a significant problem, as these species are often introduced accidentally through barge traffic.
The most serious environmental hazard is the risk of oil spills, as these can have catastrophic consequences for both wildlife and local communities. In addition, the Mississippi river has a complex network of tributaries and wetlands, making it difficult to accurately measure the potential impact of any oil spill. As a consequence, the Mississippi river is prone to floods, caused by heavy rains and rapid runoff, which can create serious ecological damage.
For this reason, it is essential that barges on the Mississippi river adhere to the regulations set by the government. There are several regulations in place that provide strict guidelines for navigation, navigation systems, storage and transfers of hazardous goods, and other safety requirements. In addition, all eligible operators must submit an application for a Mississippi river transport licence.


The Mississippi river has long been a major artery for the distribution of cargo, connecting the major cities of the US’s Midwest with the rest of the country. Barges are one of the main methods by which goods are transported on the river, representing an essential part of the US economy. From an economic standpoint, they are much cheaper and more efficient than alternative methods, meaning that businesses are able to reduce costs significantly. In addition, they produce fewer emissions and require less fuel, making them an attractive option for businesses and local communities alike.
However, there are also some drawbacks; the risk of oil and chemical spills can pose serious ecological damage, while the invasive species introduced on the river through barge traffic have made it difficult to accurately measure the potential impact of any oil spill. In order to ensure that barges operating on the Mississippi river do not create additional environmental hazards, the government has put in place several safety regulations.

River Infrastructure

An integral part of using barges to transport goods on the Mississippi river is the infrastructure that facilitates it. In order for the Mississippi to be used to its maximum potential, it needs to be maintained and managed properly. The government funds various projects to improve the infrastructure on the Mississippi, such as dredging, locks, dams and bridges.
The Mississippi river is subject to regular dredging operations to remove silt and other material from the riverbed, allowing vessels to navigate through the waterway safely and efficiently. This is essential in order for the barges to not be damaged due to the shallow river bed, and is also important in order to ensure that the barges can travel safely and quickly.
In addition, the US government has invested heavily in the development of locks and dams along the river, to regulate the water flow and ensure the safety of vessels travelling on the Mississippi. The US Army Corps of Engineers is responsible for construction and maintenance of the locks and dams, ensuring that they remain in a secure and operational condition.
The bridges built over the river are also essential for efficient transport, as they provide an alternative route for barges to travel, avoiding shallow or stagnant water. The bridges also make it possible for the barges to enter and exit ports without the need to go around bends in the river.

Benefits Outweigh Risks?

For many businesses and local communities, the use of barges to transport goods on the Mississippi river is an attractive option due to the numerous benefits that it offers. The barge is capable of transporting goods quickly and at a reduced cost, and is a more fuel-efficient and personnel-efficient option compared to other modes of transport.
The economic advantages for businesses of using barges are obvious, as it reduces the cost of transport, due to the fuel efficiency and lower personnel requirement. In addition, there are numerous employment opportunities for local communities, as the barge industry provides both direct and indirect employment.
Despite the environmental hazards associated with the use of barges on the Mississippi river, the improvements in safety regulations and infrastructure make the risk small compared to the economic benefits for businesses and local communities.

Impact of Deregulation

Since the late 1970s, the US government has gradually moved to deregulate the transportation industry. This has had a significant impact on the barge industry, as it has opened up the business to more competition and allowed more companies to access the Mississippi river. This also means that more barges can be used on the river, as they no longer need to compete for business – resulting in more efficient transport and lower operating costs.
This deregulation has also led to more efficient transport, as the increased competition has encouraged companies to reduce costs, increase speeds and improve safety regulations. The Mississippi is now seen as a cost-effective and time-efficient way to transport goods, making it an attractive option for businesses.
In addition, the increased competition has prompted companies to come up with new and innovative ways of using the Mississippi for transportation, such as using innovative vessels, using alternative routes and using automated navigation systems. This is beneficial for both businesses and local communities, as it allows for greater economic development.

Future of the Mississippi River

As the Mississippi continues to be an important industrial artery in the US, it is essential that the barge industry is given the tools and resources that it needs to continue providing an efficient and cost-effective service. The river’s infrastructure needs to be maintained and further improved in order to keep up with the changes in technology and the increased competition, while safety standards need to be kept up to date.
The US government is continuing to invest heavily in improving the infrastructure and safety regulations of the Mississippi river, and it is hoped that this will lead to an even more efficient and cost-effective service in the coming years. As a result, it is likely that barges will remain a fixture of the river for many years to come.

Raymond Strasser is a passion-driven writer and researcher, dedicated to educating readers on the topic of world rivers. With a background in Geography and Environmental Studies, Raymond provides insightful pieces which explore the impact and importance that rivers have around the world.

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