Illinois DOT Seeks Comment on Marine Transportation System Plan

Chicago River
Open bridges over the Chicago River downtown. (Illinois Department of Transportation)

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The Illinois Department of Transportation is seeking public comment on a draft of its Illinois Marine Transportation System Plan and associated economic impact analysis study.

IDOT issued its invitation for public comment Nov. 17. One of the plan’s purposes is to help IDOT integrate the waterway system into the state’s overall multimodal transportation network.

Illinois’ network of waterways includes 19 public port districts and more than 400 private terminals along the Illinois, Kaskaskia, Ohio and Mississippi rivers. Additionally, the Chicago metropolitan area has a network of waterways linking to Lake Michigan.

Illinois Marine Plan by Transport Topics

“Our waterways system is a big reason why Illinois is the transportation hub of North America,” acting Illinois Transportation Secretary Omer Osman said.

Another purpose of the plan is to help program $150 million in funding that was identified for improvements to the marine transportation system in Gov. Jay “J.B.” Pritzker’s Rebuild Illinois plan. The $45 billion infrastructure improvement initiative approved in 2019 is meant to fund investment in roads, bridges, transit, education, state parks, historic sites and clean water infrastructure.

Illinois’ fuel tax rate doubled in 2019 as part of Rebuild Illinois, and rates increased again slightly in 2020. The state’s current motor fuel tax rates are 46.2 cents per gallon for diesel and 38.7 cents per gallon for gasoline.

This past summer, $40 million in Rebuild Illinois funding was directed to build a port in Cairo. The southernmost city in Illinois, Cairo is situated at the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers. Specifically, the funding supports a public-private partnership that will construct a new inland port.

According to IDOT, the state’s marine transportation system generates $36 billion in economic impact every year and sustains approximately 160,000 jobs. Leading commodities produced in Illinois include soybeans, corn, pigs, cattle, wheat and oats, according to the Illinois Department of Agriculture.

“This study will make sure we are taking full advantage of a critical part of the state’s economy and help IDOT deliver the governor’s Rebuild Illinois capital program,” Osman said.

The state’s waterways present opportunities for fuel-efficient transportation, according to the Illinois Marine Transportation System Plan, which notes that inland barges provide the best ton-mile per gallon rates of all modes of transportation. (Ton-miles per gallon refers to how many miles 1 ton of freight is carried per gallon of fuel.) The plan indicates inland barges are about 4.5 times more efficient than truck freight and 1.3 times more efficient than rail.

Illinois’ marine transportation system is particularly useful for moving bulk commodities, such as food products, gravel, chemicals and fertilizers, the plan states. One 15-barge tow is equivalent to the volume capabilities of 1,050 large trucks. Additionally, barges can serve a role in alleviating congestion on Illinois’ roadways.

IDOT will be accepting feedback from the public until Dec. 11. The agency also scheduled a webinar Nov. 18 to facilitate input.

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