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Economic Significance

Benefits to shippers, to consumers, to the TVA region

photo of barges

Chickamauga Lock
Chattanooga, Tennessee

The economies of water transportation are clear: Products that are made from commodities shipped in bulk quantities would cost more without the option of river transportation. The river’s availability as a competitive transportation option also helps to keep truck and rail prices down.

River transportation has a direct impact on the prices consumers pay for the things they buy. Soft drinks, ice cream, baked goods and pancake syrup, for example, are all sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup made from grain grown in the Midwest. Some of this corn is loaded onto barges and shipped down the upper Mississippi River, then up the Ohio River and eventually up the Tennessee River to a processing plant in Loudon, Tenn. Because a reliable, inexpensive river route is available, these goods — and many other consumer products — cost less.

illustration of barge

Because one barge can transport as much cargo as 15 rail cars or 60 tractor-trailers, waterway transportation benefits the environment. It reduces fuel consumption and emissions, and makes the roads safer by keeping more trucks off of the highways.

map of southeast U.S.

Inland Waterway System

The largest tributary of the Ohio River, the Tennessee is part of the nation’s Inland Waterway System. These interconnected river routes cover 11,000 miles and serve to strategically link geographic areas, major markets, suppliers of raw materials, processors and consumers.

Click to view full size map. (PDF, 140 kb)

Navigation has contributed greatly to the economic and industrial development of the Tennessee Valley as a whole. For example, the poultry industry in north Alabama would not have located where it did without water transportation. The economies of cities like Decatur and Chattanooga would not be as dynamic as they are today, were it not for the Tennessee River.

Substantial investments have been made in waterfront plants, terminals and distribution facilities all along the river. These industries provide direct employment for many thousands of residents of the TVA region. Thriving river traffic is a key ingredient in a healthy economic future for the region.

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