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Great Lakes Article:

Habitat Watch # 284
Great Lakes United
September 7-September 13, 2003


Transportation report undermines Great Lakes navigation expansion plans

A new study by the Pennsylvania Transportation Institute challenges the official claims that expanding the Great Lakes navigation system and St. Lawrence Seaway will rejuvenate the regional economy. The report questions U.S. Army Corps of Engineersí assertions that navigation system expansion will ever attract large-volume container service.

The report, "Analysis of the Great Lakes/ St. Lawrence River Navigation Systemís Role in U.S. Ocean Container Trade," says building bigger locks, deepening shipping channels, and extending the Great Lakes navigation season is unlikely to divert container ship traffic from East coast ports in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Québec.

"Container cargo is generally high value cargo and time sensitive," says Dr. Evelyn Thomchick, lead author of the report, and Associate Professor of Supply Chain Management at Penn State University and PTI. "The longer transit times to navigate the system make the waters unattractive to shippers of containerized cargo, even with an expansion of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway."

Commissioned by Great Lakes United and Save the River!, the report is the first independent examination of the most recent studies by the Corps on how to increase commercial navigation on the Great Lakes. The Corps and shipping interests claim that enlarging the Great Lakes navigation system and St. Lawrence Seaway would rescue struggling economies in the western portion of the Great Lakes basin by diverting container traffic from East Coast ports in the United States and Canada. Shipping interests have argued for decades that allowing larger ocean-going ships access to the basin will reverse a 20-year trend of declining traffic. A broad coalition of groups have argued that the environmental and economic costs of expansion would far outweigh any benefits that a few more ocean-going ships could bring.

PTI examined the role of the Great Lakes navigation system in 1979. With manufacturers now widely relying on approaches such as "just-in-time" production process to reduce overall costs, PTI found that the reasons expansion was not justified in 1979 are even more true today. The 2003 study says:

· The Corps has not demonstrated that an expanded navigation system would divert container traffic from East Coast ports or other existing transportation networks;

The long transit times and the associated added costs and uncertainties of the Great Lakes navigation system are likely to discourage containership traffic;

The Corps has not demonstrated that existing transportation networks providing container movement to the Great Lakes region are capacity constrained, and

The Corpsí lack of cost estimates for expansion makes a comprehensive and accurate cost-benefit analysis impossible.

The PTI study also says that performing accurate analyses now could end the need for any future expansion studies.

" In todayís global market place, a host of factors beyond the size of channels and locks determine whether ocean-going ships would be attracted to Great Lakes ports," explains Dr. Thomchick. "Because of the long transit times and the circuitous routes, we question whether ocean container shipping companies would be able to develop profitable trade routes at rates that would result in substantial transportation cost savings to their customers."

The PTI report is being released just as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers begins the next phase of examining the Great Lakes navigation system and St. Lawrence Seaway.

Great Lakes United and Save the River! state that the Corpsí upcoming study should finally lay to rest navigation system expansion plans and resolve ongoing problems caused by Great Lakes navigation practices, such as introductions of invasive species from ocean-going shipsí ballast-water dumping, and lowered water levels and habitat damage caused by channel dredging.

A copy of the full report can be downloaded at: www.glu.org

The Pennsylvania Transportation Institute is an interdisciplinary research and outreach unit of The Pennsylvania State Universities College of Engineering. A previous study conducted by the PTI in 1979 evaluated a plan by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to make improvements to the Seaway and provided an evaluation of the role of the GLNS in certain aspects of the U.S. economy, as well as the international trade environment at the time.

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