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GLIN==> Questions Surrounding Cessation of Ocean-Vessel Shipping on Great Lakes Investigated

Questions Surrounding Cessation of Ocean-Vessel Shipping on Great Lakes Investigated


Research Shows Increase in Jobs, Minimal Impact on Air Quality and Highway Congestion


April 9, 2008 (Grand Rapids, MI)–  Following up on their landmark research into transportation costs of ocean-vessel shipping on the Great Lakes, Grand Valley State University researchers have found that ending ocean-vessel access to the lakes would increase transportation sector jobs and have little impact to air quality or highway congestion.


“Our ongoing work has been focused on presenting transportation scenarios that would both facilitate trade and address current problems on the Great Lakes. Such scenarios for moving freight have previously been ignored,” said John Taylor, lead author from Grand Valley State University. “Our recent report examines and refutes assertions that transhipment would destroy jobs, increase air pollution, and clog roads and rail lines. We hope this research provides an objective basis for public discourse and additional investigations.”


The Phase II report addresses many of the questions raised by their first report, which found that a cessation of ocean-shipping on the Great Lakes would incur a $55 million cost increase by the use of alternative modes of transportation. The report marked a turning point in the public debate on what action to take to combat the introduction of aquatic invasive species to the Great Lakes by suggesting the use of alternative transportation modes as a solution. Ocean-vessel transportation is the main vector by which aquatic invaders like the zebra mussel have entered the Great Lakes in recent years.


“Critics argued that stopping ocean-vessels would cost jobs and drastically increase the number of trucks on the region’s highways – we wanted to see if that was indeed the case,” said James L. Roach, president of the transportation consulting firm JLRoach Inc. “In fact our research found that over 1,300 new domestic jobs would be created in the U.S. and Canada, and the impact on our highways negligible.”


The research finds many of these jobs would stay in the Great Lakes region, employing workers on lake vessels, barges, trains and trucks. Some jobs would re-locate to Canadian ports on the St. Lawrence River, and some to the east coast and Gulf of Mexico.


“While we are not suggesting ocean ships be stopped to create domestic jobs, assertions that an end to ocean shipping on the Great Lakes would cost jobs are just plain wrong,” said Dr. Taylor.


According to the study, truck traffic would increase by less than 1 per cent, and would only approach that on Highway 401 west of Montreal, where there would be an additional 89 trucks per day. The number of trucks would be far less on other routes.


Shipping interests have stated that transhipment and the use of truck and rail to move the cargo currently transported on ocean-vessels would have a significant impact on air quality. Air emissions were compared across all three modes. But according to the study, for tonnage that does not move by alternative waterborne modes, the likely rail alternative is comparable to waterborne transportation on three pollutant categories, and the rail mode is actually significantly better than ocean on two pollutants.


“Because of the extremely low total tonnage of cargo moved on ocean-vessels compared to the total volumes of goods moved every day on our regions highways, railways and waterways, congestion and air quality changes won’t register,” said Dr. Taylor.


Other key findings:

  • On average, ocean vessels carry about 12.1 million metric tons of cargo annually on the Great Lakes.
  • The total volume of ocean vessel traffic is about the amount that could be carried by a medium density single-track rail line or a single daily tug/barge on the Lower Mississippi.
  • There is adequate capacity in the Great Lakes transportation system to carry cargo currently carried by ocean vessels.
  • Rail traffic would grow by the equivalent of 1.6 trains per day spread over the entire rail system in the region. Rail executives indicate that rail congestion is not a problem in the east on the routes in question, and that the railroads could handle this additional traffic.


For more information contact:


Dr. John Taylor

Associate Professor, Grand Valley State University




James Roach

President, JLRoach, Inc.




Read the reports:

Phase I report, “Ocean Shipping In the Great Lakes: Transportation Cost Increases That Would Result From a Cessation of Ocean Vessels Shipping” and Phase II report, “Ocean Shipping in the Great Lakes: Analysis of Issues” can both be found at:






Brent Gibson

Director, Communications

(613) 867-9861

bgibson@glu.org | www.glu.org


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