Facts & Maps


Coosa-Alabama River Profile

The Coosa River drops 450 feet in elevation between Rome and its confluence with the Tallapoosa.

The Alabama River drops 106 feet in elevation from its head above Montgomery to its confluence with the Tombigbee.

Value of Inland and Coastal Waterways to Alabama

Port and inland waterways add greatly to our economy:

Value of cargo

  • $7.5 billion of cargo is moved annually on domestic water transportation
  • In 1996, shipment by water was 28.8 million tons, valued at $4.8 billion
  • Value of domestic products shipped into Alabama by water is
    estimated at $2.6 billion
  • The major commodity shipped on inland waterways is coal, 33% of total

Hydroelectric power

  • In Alabama, the average annual energy produced by U.S. ArmyCorps of Engineers dams could supply $90 million worth of electricity to 128,000 homes

Scope of ports and waterways

  • Industries using water transportation provide over 60,000 jobs
  • Inland waterways industry itself generates 2,800 jobs, providing
    $18 million in state/federal payroll taxes
  • Economic impact of Alabama State Docks in Mobile statewide is over $3 billion
  • Mobile Port ranks 8th nationally in export tonnage, 16th in import


  • Over 4 million party visits to Corps recreation sites contribute over $365 million, resulting in 8,000 Alabama jobs

Advantages of inland barge transportation

Much of the material presented here is based on the U.S. Department of Transportation, Maritime Administration brochure, “Environmental Advantages of Inland Barge Transportation.”

Shipping by barge is more energy efficient than over land. Water transport expends 433 BTU per ton-mile versus 696 for rail.

Carrying more

Compare the relative distance each mode of transportation can carry one ton of cargo for every gallon of fuel burned:
Truck – 59 miles Train – 202 miles Barge – 514 miles

Barges can carry large loads of bulk materials up to five times their own weight – 15 times that of one rail car and 60 times greater than one semi-trailer truck.

Cargo Capacities

  • To move the same amount of cargo as a standard tow (15 barges) would require a freight train 2.75 miles long or a line of 870 trucks stretching almost 35 miles.
  • On the lower Mississippi, one 10,000 horsepower towboat can push 40 barges, the equivalent of 600 railcars or more than 2200 trucks.
  • Where barge transportation is available, truck and especially rail rates tend to be lower. This translates into lower costs for the consumer.

Death and Injury Rate by Mode Per Billion Ton-Miles

Barge Tows*0.010.09

Statistics show that barge transportation has fewer accidents, fatalities, and injuries than truck or rail.

  • Shallow draft barges operate mainly in sparsely populated areas with fewer crossings, meaning fewer potential collisions.
  • Spills occur more often with truck and rail than with barges, whose double-hulls and navigational aids help reduce accidents.
  • Towboats emit far fewer decibels than road traffic.
  • Road traffic expels much more air pollution than barges.

* Barge data from National Transportation Statistics Annual Report 1993, pp 32-33
** Truck and rail data from US Statistical Abstract 1993, pp 610, 621, 630. Truck deaths includes only truck occupants. Other victims not counted.


The table shown is from “Inland Waterways as Vital National Infrastructure: Refuting ‘Corporate Welfare’ Attacks,” page 25, by Dr. C. Jake Haulk of the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy, 1998.

Pounds of Emission Per Ton-Mile EPA, Emission Control Lab

ModeHydrocarbonsCarbon MonoxideNitrogen Oxide

The waterways industry has long worked to maintain and develop our inland waterways in a way that protects the ecological health of the river basins.

  • Barges travel mostly isolated natural rivers and are less likely to compete with non-transportation land uses.
  • Barges do not cause the same traffic congestion for the community as do trains or trucks.
  • A navigation waterway provides waterside communities recreation, flood control, water supply, irrigation, and hydroelectric power, contributing to quality of life.

Extracted from “Inland Waterways as Vital National Infrastructure: Refuting “Corporate Welfare” Attacks” by Dr. C. Jake Haulk, Allegheny Institute for Public Policy, p. 24.