I-40 bridge closure impacting barge traffic

State News

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – The Arkansas River is a tributary into the Mississippi River and sees a fair amount of traffic. 

Executive Director of the Little Rock Port Bryan Day says the port itself handles about 1,000,000 pounds of commodities ranging from petroleum products to grain to sand. 

He says they service approximately 5,000 barges each year but that is just a small number that actually traverse the waterway.

“$12 billion worth of commodities move on this river every year I can’t tell you the exact number barges but it is well into the thousands if not tens of thousands,” Day said.

Along with road traffic waterway traffic has been halted from crossing under the I-40 bridge.  Day says there are no alternative routes like I-55 for barges.

“If they close the Mississippi River at Memphis for an extended period of time how can barge traffic get up and down? It can’t!” Day said.

Day says all three modes of transportation – river, rail, and road – work in tandem to move the country’s logistics. 

“It takes all three modes of transportation to move logistics in this country: rail, river, Road. When one of them is damaged or one of them is out of commission, everybody hurts,” Day said.

It is much less expensive to move commodities on barge than it is by rail or truck.  An average barge can hold about 1,000 times what a semi-truck can haul.  If the I-40 bridge is closed for an extended period to barge traffic, Day says many producers may use a combination of methods to move commodities, which is more expensive.

“And if the river is not working it will be loaded by rail or truck, that could help us all, of course, it’s more expensive. This bridge closure if it’s shut down for a long period time it’s going to…people will feel the impact,” Day said.

Day fears that those costs will get passed on to consumers so he and many in the riverway system are hopeful a fix of any kind can be made to avoid the domino effect of passing on costs.

“Cautiously optimistic that there’s a quick fix that’s can be safely done and we can get the system back open as soon as possible so that the supply chain and the consumer prices are not impacted to the potential that they could be,” Day said. 

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