Arkansas River Navigation System
Barge transportation, the least expensive and most energy efficient method of moving goods, is available in Oklahoma and Arkansas as a result of a massive civil works project undertaken by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to tame the Arkansas and Verdigris Rivers, known as the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System. This waterway with its 9 ft., year-round ice free channel, extends from the Arkansas River’s confluence with the Mississippi River about 500 miles upstream from New Orleans, Louisiana to the head of navigation near Tulsa, Oklahoma. Navigation depth and floods are controlled by lock and dams on the Arkansas and Verdigris rivers as well as a series of huge reservoirs on tributary streams.
The system handles millions of tons of products every year (capable of handling over 35 million tons), providing cost savings to hundreds of companies using water transportation.
River traffic is passed from one level to another by means of a lock. With the water in the lock at the lower pool level and with the upper gate and valves closed, a boat or tow going upstream enters the lock chamber through the open lower gate. The lower gate and valves are then closed and the upper filling valves are opened. The valves allow water to enter through the intake ports, flow through the culverts in the lock walls, and into the lock chamber. When the lock chamber is filled to upper pool level, the upper gate is opened, permitting the boat or tow to proceed upstream. For passing boats down-stream, operations described above are reversed.
Each of the system’s 17 locks has a single chamber measuring 110 feet wide and 600 feet long, large enough to accommodate several vessels or a single tow as large as 108 feet wide by 585 feet long. A typical 8-barge 12,000-ton is equivalent to 400 semi-trucks or 120 railroad freight cars. Tows with more than 8 barges can now be accommodated through these locks that are equipped with a two-haulage system.
The maximum lift from one navigation pool to another ranges from only 14 feet at lock No. 4 near Pine Bluff to as much as 54 feet at the Dardanelle Lock. The locks are operated 24 hours per day and handle both commercial barges and recreational vessels. Bridges over the channel have a minimum vertical clearance of 52 feet 98% of the time. Actual vertical clearance above the normal level of the navigation pool is normally more than 52 feet.
Energy Efficient, Time and Cost Competitive
Barge transportation is one of the most energy-efficient forms of transportation and is also much faster than most people think. The entire 445-mile trip from Catoosa to the Mississippi River takes two to three days; to New Orleans five to seven days. These times may be comparable to other forms of transportation considering make-up and switching times. Taking costs of shipping into consideration as well as time, barge transportation may have a considerable advantage, and if the origin or destination of the goods being shipped is on or near the waterway, shipping on the may be clearly the best choice.
During 2014 barges handled 8,558,200 tons of cargo on the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System. This volume would have required over 100,000 railroad hopper cars, forming a line 1,200 miles long or 400,000 semi-tractor trucks forming a line over 4,500 miles long – this would be twice the distance from New York City to Los Angeles.
Considering the variety of barges available and the increasing use of containerization, almost any product or commodity is suitable for transportation on the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System. All of the major commodities shipped on the waterway – construction materials, petroleum, coal, grains and other agricultural products, steel products, chemicals and minerals – are a part of the continued growth in river traffic. As more shippers understand the economics of water transportation, new commodities are moved along the Arkansas River system.
Shipments to and from inland riverports along the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System are increasingly becoming a part of international trade. The use of LASH barges, which are loaded directly aboard trans-oceanic freighters, expedites movement of traffic. With the establishment of foreign trades, international trade – both inbound and outbound – is experiencing a surge of growth.