Compared to other modes of transportation, inland waterway navigation is:
- Generally less costly
- Fewer atmospheric emissions
- More fuel-efficient
- More collateral benefits (recreation, flood control, etc.)
About 15% of the annual cargo moved within the U.S. is moved by barge. This includes:
- Grain and farm products
- Petroleum and petroleum products
- Sand and gravel
- Wood and wood products
Towboats take the lead in driving barges through waterways:
- From the pilot house, the boat master manages the full tow spread, from the kitchen and dining room to the engine room, to the mechanic personnel on each barge.
- A pilot working for the boat master steers the towboat. Crew members generally work six hours on, six hours off.
A lot goes into efficient, successful waterway transit:
- To build a towboat costs about $1,000 per horsepower. Towboats on inland waterways range from a few hundred up to 10,000 horsepower.
- To build a barge costs from about $225,000 (open dry cargo hopper) to $750,000+ (tank or liquid).
- About a third of towboat operating costs goes toward crew wages, benefits, food, travel, etc. About half goes to fuel and oil. Repairs make up about 15-20%, with the rest miscellaneous costs.
- The Inland Waterways Trust Fund (IWTF) pays 50% of capital improvements (new construction/rehabilitation) for waterway projects.
- The remaining 50% is paid by the Federal General Revenue Fund. This fund pays for operations and maintenance (O&M) through a $300-$400 million annual appropriation from Congress.
- The IWTF raises nearly $100 million annually from a fuel tax ($ .20/gallon) paid by commercial towing. It earns an additional $15-20 million in interest.
- Representing shippers and carriers, the Inland Waterways User Board (IWUB) recommends construction/rehabilitation projects to the Secretary of the Army and Congress.