District Digest News Stories

Value of ship shape navigation locks multiplies when counting commodities

Nashville District Public Affairs
Published Jan. 28, 2022
The Motor Vessel Tampa out of Ashland, Kentucky guides Marathon Petroleum Company fuel barges out of Cheatham Lock May 21, 2021, in Ashland City, Tennessee, headed to terminals in Nashville on the Cumberland River. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District worked with the fuel industry and Regional Rivers Repair Fleet to schedule openings to accommodate deliveries of fuel to Middle Tennessee. Each barge carries around 28,000 barrels of fuel. (USACE Photo by Lee Roberts)

The Motor Vessel Tampa out of Ashland, Kentucky guides Marathon Petroleum Company fuel barges out of Cheatham Lock May 21, 2021, in Ashland City, Tennessee, headed to terminals in Nashville on the Cumberland River. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District worked with the fuel industry and Regional Rivers Repair Fleet to schedule openings to accommodate deliveries of fuel to Middle Tennessee. Each barge carries around 28,000 barrels of fuel. (USACE Photo by Lee Roberts)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Jan. 28, 2022) – The value of keeping navigation locks on the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers in ship shape multiplies when counting the large number of commodities that are delivered via the Inland Waterway System to communities throughout the region and nation.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District operates and maintains four navigation locks on the Cumberland River, nine locks on the Tennessee River, and one lock on the Clinch River, a tributary of the Tennessee.  The two waterways are connected by the Barkley Canal, and mariners use these waterway connections to traverse and make deliveries within the Inland Waterway System.

In 2019, a total of 1,730 recreation, 4,944 commercial, and 34 other-type vessels navigated through the four locks on the Cumberland River. That same year, 3,618 recreation, 12,699 commercial, and 154 other-type vessels navigated through the 10 lock projects on the Tennessee and Clinch Rivers. The district’s lock operators conducted a total of 23,293 lockages; a total of 17,541 of those supported the commercial barge industry.

“This might not sound like a lot, but when you consider one barge can carry the equivalent of 78 tractor trailer loads, and one vessel can move up to 15 barges equaling 1,170 18-wheelers, the volume and movement of goods is significant,” said Megan Simpson, Nashville District Operations Division Maintenance Section chief.

The USACE Waterborne Commerce Statistics Center reported that in 2019 a total of 31,603,609 tons of commodities like coal, petroleum, chemicals, crude materials, manufactured goods, food and farm products, manufactured equipment and machinery were transported along the Tennessee River and through its navigation locks. A total of 23,190,693 tons of goods and materials were also moved along the Cumberland River and through its navigation locks.

Simpson said the navigation locks, its operators, and its maintainers support the nation’s economy by keeping the shipping lanes open. Their efforts can even have an impact on the timely delivery of commodities and make a difference at the cash register for Americans. A good example is the delivery of fuel barges on the Cumberland River to Nashville during the Colonial Pipeline shutdown in 2021, she said.

During that fuel shortage, the Nashville District worked to keep Cheatham Lock open in Ashland City, Tennessee, despite restrictions during scheduled maintenance. The effort by the repair team to alter its maintenance schedule made it possible for barges to successfully deliver fuel to Nashville terminals. 

“This experience is one of many where USACE lived its mission of delivering vital engineering solutions in collaboration with partners to secure our Nation, energize our economy, and reduce risk,” wrote Jake E. Menefee, Marathon Petroleum Corporation’s vice president of Government Affairs, in May 2021.

Simpson stressed that the navigation locks had a direct impact on the cost of gas at the pumps that Tennesseans were paying at the time.

“And that’s the case with so many other goods and services that are delivered on the waterways and through our locks every day of every year,” Simpson added.

Nashville District’s lock mechanics maintain and repair the operating machinery at its locks, perform daily routine maintenance, and conduct complete overhauls of the lock chambers to ensure reliable operations. Keeping the locks open and in ship shape means the barge industry can deliver items in very large quantities that Americans depend on every day.

According to the USACE Institute for Water Resources, in 2016 more than 553 million tons of commodities moved nationwide through the Inland Waterway System, providing $13.16 billion of estimated rate savings. The savings were based by comparing commodity movements, calculating origin-destination transportation rates for waterway movements, and the least cost overland route. The difference between these two modal options represents rate savings.

Nashville District on the district’s website at www.lrn.usace.army.mil, on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/nashvillecorps and on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/nashvillecorps.)