Red River Waterway: A 23-Year-Old Waterway 160 Years In The Making

The J. Bennett Johnston Waterway, the formal name of the Red River Waterway, is the commercially navigable portion of the Red River that stretches from the Mississippi River to Shreveport, La.

The waterway was completed in December 1994 and was the culmination of a 160-year effort to firmly establish commercial navigation on the Red River. That effort began in earnest in the 1830s when Capt. Henry Shreve began removing a driftwood log jam from the Red River in the vicinity of present-day Shreveport. The city was later named in his honor.

Now maintained by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Red River Waterway navigation channel is authorized to be 9 feet deep and 200 feet wide. Five locks scattered across the 236-mile-long waterway allow barge traffic to move up and down the river. The locks are all 84 feet wide and 705 feet long and provide a cumulative lift of about 141 feet, according to the Corps of Engineers.

The Red River Waterway now is home to both public ports and private terminals. Besides the uppermost Port of Caddo-Bossier in the Shreveport area, the waterway is home to four other public ports: Red River Parish Port in Hanna, La.; Natchitoches Parish Port in Campti, La.; Central Louisiana Regional Port in Alexandria, La.; and Avoyelles Parish Port, located south of Simmesport, La.

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Red River Parish Port

Moving downriver from Caddo-Bossier, Red River Parish Port is located at Mile 173.3. The public port was established in 2002. Travis Tyler, executive director of both the Red River Parish Port and the Natchitoches (pronounced “NAK-eh-dish”) Parish Port, said while the Red River Parish Port is relatively new, it sees plenty of barge traffic thanks to the transportation of frac sand and aggregates.

“Red River Parish Port is the smallest port on the Red River, but it did the most tonnage by barge in 2017—536,904 tons of frac sand aggregates by barge to be exact,” Tyler said. “For 2018, the tonnages seem to be remaining the same as 2017, so they should finish with another high-tonnage year.”

Tyler said another highlight from 2017 was the completion of Capital Sand Proppant’s frac sand warehouse.

Natchitoches Parish Port

About 20 miles downriver from Red River Parish Port, Natchitoches Parish Port sits at Mile 152.2 on the Red River. The port opened in 1996 and functions as a multimodal facility. It boasts the only slack water port on the river. The port offers a transit shed that has 62,000 square feet of space, drive-through loading and unloading of trucks, a 12,000-square-foot dock that can accommodate a 150-ton crane, and a covered and lighted rail dock.

Natchitoches Parish Port also houses a wood chip and pellet facility, a general cargo dock, two port-owned locomotives, a Kansas City Southern spur with five miles of track and an 1,800-foot-long rail-to-truck transloading area. In 2009, the port acquired an additional 383 acres of land, 360 acres of which is contiguous. That “North Port Tract” has been certified by both the Louisiana Department of Economic Development and McCallum Sweeney Consulting.

Overall, in 2017 the port handled just over 839,000 tons of materials. Tenants include Kisatchie Chips, Terral RiverService, ADA Carbon Solutions, Matriculated Services and Madden Contracting.

Central Louisiana Regional Port

Farther downriver in Alexandria, La., is the Central Louisiana Regional Port, which opened in 1995. The port owns some 200 acres in Rapides Parish. The port has a 40-ton crane on site, a general cargo dock, a hopper barge loading and unloading system with a conveyor, 75,000 square feet of dry warehousing, and a pair of bulk fertilizer domes. The port also has a liquid loading facility with two 550,000-gallon fuel storage tanks and a 150,000-gallon tank.

Most recently, the Central Louisiana Regional Port was the site for a move of some 700 military vehicles, trailers, equipment and artillery by barge to the Fort Polk Joint Readiness Training Center in Leesville, La.

Avoyelles Parish Port

Finally, downriver from Alexandria is the Avoyelles Parish Port, south of Simmesport, La., with exposure on both the Red and Atchafalaya rivers. The port generates income through tenant lease agreements. Recent development projects include completion of a 400,000-gallon water tower, which supplies water to hydrants throughout the port.

Private terminals and operators on the Red River include Luhr Brothers in Alexandria, which supplies aggregates for road and construction projects throughout the state. Over the last three years, Luhr Brother’s Alexandria yard has averaged 300,000 tons of material moved. Cleco operates a power generating plant on Rodemacher Lake, an oxbow of the Red River near Boyce, La. At that power plant, called the Brame Energy Center, Cleco brings in some 2 million tons of fuel per year, mostly by barge.