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GLIN==> Transportation report undermines Great Lakes expansion plans

September 10, 2003
Transportation report undermines
Great Lakes navigation expansion plans

Dr. Evelyn Thomchick, Pennsylvania Transportation Institute, 814-865-9967
Dr. Gary Gittings, Pennsylvania Transportation Institute, 814-863-1896
Stephanie Weiss, Save the River, 315-686-2010
Jennifer Nalbone, Great Lakes United, 716-886-0142

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 Engineers’ assertions that navigation system expansion will ever attract large-volume container service.

The report, “Analysis of the Great Lakes/ St. Lawrence River Navigation System’s 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 Corps’ 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 today’s 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 fact is Great Lakes cities are located thousands of miles inland and hundreds of feet above sea level. Trying to make them competitive with ocean ports for international cargo has never made much sense,” said Jennifer Nalbone, Habitat and Biodiversity Coordinator from Great Lakes United.

Stephanie Weiss, executive director of Save the River said, “Expansion would bring destruction to the St. Lawrence River, which has already suffered more than its share from navigation projects. The idea of that destruction coming without the economic benefits promised by the Corps makes expansion even more wrong-headed as a future direction for the lakes and river.” 

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 Corps’ 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 ships’ ballast-water dumping, and lowered water levels and habitat damage caused by channel dredging.

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

Established in 1982, Great Lakes United is an international coalition of over 150 environmental and conservation organizations, unions, academia and businesses in the U.S., Canada, First Nations and tribes. GLU is dedicated to the protection and restoration of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River basin. The GLU coalition was founded after groups from around the eight Great Lakes states and two provinces came together to work on historic proposals to expand the navigation system. More on Great Lakes United is available at: www.glu.org

Save The River was founded in 1978 to preserve and protect the ecological integrity of the Thousand Islands Region of the St. Lawrence River through advocacy, education and research. STR currently represents over one thousand property owners, business people, scientists, and families from more than thirty different communities along the St. Lawrence River. STR has been a leader against winter navigation and navigation expansion for twenty years. More information about Save The River is available at www.savetheriver.org.

The Pennsylvania Transportation Institute is an interdisciplinary research and outreach unit of The Pennsylvania State Universities College of Engineering.  PTI’s goals are to conduct innovative and objective transportation research, to disseminate research results, to promote continuing education for transportation professionals, and to provide significant educational and research opportunities for Penn State students. The institute’s energies are directed toward solving problems in four major areas of transportation research: transportation operations; new materials, construction and pavement engineering; transportation structures; and vehicle systems and safety.  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. 

Jennifer Nalbone
Habitat and Biodiversity Coordinator
Great Lakes United
1300 Elmwood Avenue
Cassety Hall- Buffalo State College
Buffalo, NY 14222

ph: (716) 886-0142  fax:-0303