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The U.S. has more than 25,000 miles of coastal and inland water highways, yet only 2 percent of all cargo is moved on them, says Mark Yonge, vice chairman of the Marine Highways Cooperative. But in the next several years, he sees more shippers realizing that these waterways are the intermodal transportation alternative for the future.
Forty to 60 percent of all European cargo moves on so-called "highways of the sea," Yonge says, and the leadership of the Cooperative, formed by government and transportation industry members and associations, hopes to see a similar success in the U.S. in the future.
Obviously, there are barges on the Mississippi and Great Lakes, and services operate between Washington State and Alaska. But that kind of water-borne cargo movement is destined to grow. Right now, Yonge says, there are a number of companies developing special-purpose vessels designed to ply these marine highways.
He's confident that the initiative will be successful if only because the transportation industry will come to see coastal and inland waterways as an intermodal alternative. In addition, the continuing driver shortage in trucking and ever more congested roadways argue in favor of using marine highways. "Our national highway infrastructure will never be able to handle the increase," he says. "We can't maintain our surface highways as they are today. So marine highways will provide the extra capacity needed in the future. The challenge for us as maritime operators is to create marine highways that can provide equal service or better service to existing surface transportation carriers such as railroads or the trucks.
"It's evolving," says Yonge. "It happened in Europe and became a great success, and eventually it will be one alternative for moving cargo here."
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