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Marine database navigating uncharted waters

1/19/2021 McCall Macomber

Provided by Adam Miliszewski, WSP USA. Raised bridges on the Chicago River in Chicago, Illinois, on May 31, 2020. Illinois’ marine transportation system consists of 1,118 miles of inland waterways and connects the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico as well as the Atlantic Ocean.
Provided by Adam Miliszewski, WSP USA. Raised bridges on the Chicago River in Chicago, Illinois, on May 31, 2020. Illinois’ marine transportation system consists of 1,118 miles of inland waterways and connects the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico as well as the Atlantic Ocean.

Marine transportation is a cost-effective and environmentally friendly way to move goods.

In fact, 1 gallon of fuel can move 1 ton of cargo across 616 miles of water, 478 miles of rail and 150 miles via truck, according to Illinois Department of Transportation.

The problem? It’s largely underutilized.

Illinois Center for Transportation and IDOT are trying to reverse this in their joint project, “R27-192: Maritime Freight Data Collection Systems and Database to Support Performance Measures and Market Analyses.”

P.S. Sriraj, Urban Transportation Center director and University of Illinois Chicago research associate professor, leads the effort with B.J. Murray and Clayton Stambaugh, IDOT’s Section Chief in the Bureau of Planning and Deputy Director in the Office of Intermodal Project Implementation, respectively.

The project is a coordinated endeavor with IDOT’s Marine Transportation System Plan, which will steer the agency’s efforts to integrate marine transportation into the state’s transportation network.

The plan is also expected to help guide the use of $150 million dedicated for improvements to the marine transportation system in Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s 2019 Rebuild Illinois bill.

Improvements to the system may lead to more jobs, reduced roadway congestion, increased roadway safety and expanded life cycles for pavement.

“The inland industry is very, very important — especially for international trade — but it doesn’t get the attention that a coastal port with a massive container ship gets,” Stambaugh said. “We’re trying to change that conversation and make sure it gets more attention and gets supported as it should.”

Here the researchers investigate marine performance measures in the U.S. and abroad in order to create metrics for Illinois’ marine transportation system.

“The maritime industry is a very significant, vital link for movement of freight,” Sriraj said.

But the industry also has “weak links,” most notably its performance measures.

“If you don’t have appropriate benchmarks, if you don’t have appropriate metrics to understand how the system is functioning, then you’re never going to be able to understand its importance,” he added.

The goal is to help IDOT “look at the waterway system in a quantitative manner and make informed decisions that are going to benefit the players in the supply chain,” according to Sriraj.

The team was not only able to create performance measures for Illinois, but also a database for its marine transportation system.

“Prior to the study, we didn’t have that data, at least not readily available,” Murray said. “It’s going to help IDOT in making better informed planning and programming decisions.”

“We’ve already had some requests to provide some data that’s contained in this study to other private stakeholders and public stakeholders to help them make informed decisions as well,” he added.

Provided by Adam Miliszewski, WSP USA. The Prairie Material Yard on the northern branch of the Chicago River at Goose Island. Illinois’ marine transportation system moves nearly 9% of the state’s freight tonnage and brings $6.4 billion to the state’s economy annually, according to IDOT.
Provided by Adam Miliszewski, WSP USA. The Prairie Material Yard on the northern branch of the Chicago River at Goose Island. Illinois’ marine transportation system moves nearly 9% of the state’s freight tonnage and brings $6.4 billion to the state’s economy annually, according to IDOT.