Lock Closure Study Focuses On Highway Displacements

Just in time for upcoming infrastructure debates, the Mid-America Freight Coalition (MAFC) has released a new study of the effects of Upper Mississippi lock closures supported by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation and the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The study, dated October 2017 but released in December, spotlights the increase in highway truck traffic that would follow major Mississippi River lock shutdowns, and estimates the resulting costs, highway stress and environmental effects of this displacement. While the freight data it uses is similar to other studies of lock shutdowns, it offers a more detailed look at highway impacts.

The study, titled “Modal Investment Comparison: The Impact of Upper Mississippi Lock Shutdowns On State Highway Infrastructure,” was prepared by the National Center for Freight and Infrastructure Research and Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

Another study released last fall (WJ, November 1, 2017), prepared by the National Waterways Foundation and the Maritime Administration, titled “The Impacts of Unscheduled Lock Outages,” looked at the entire river system, not just the Upper Mississippi, and estimated broad economic impacts of lock closures at four different points on the entire river system.

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In the third chapter, the MAFC study proposes two “what-if” scenarios: one in which 100 percent of Upper Mississippi cargoes are diverted to highways, and another in which 75 percent of the cargoes are diverted to rail and 25 percent to highways.

The 100 percent cargo diversion scenario would result in an additional 12,337,400 tons of goods moving in 489,496 truckloads, increasing paving costs by more than $28 million. Iowa and Minnesota would see the greatest increases in truck traffic. About 212,464 additional tons of CO2 would be emitted from trucks.

The study estimates total trucking and “social” costs at about $320 million, compared to the $1 billion backlog and $150 million annual maintenance costs of the Upper Mississippi lock system.

Like other freight studies, this one argues that “fix as fail is not a viable long-term solution given the importance of agricultural exports to the five Upper Mississippi states” (Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois and Missouri).

The study concludes that “investments in marine infrastructure could offset the need for more rapid or extensive investment in the highway mode.”

The study is available at