More than a thousand barges — many of them likely carrying corn or soybeans — can now resume their trip along the Mississippi River after traffic was stopped due to a cracked bridge near Memphis, Tenn., according to a statement released by the U.S. Coast Guard.
"Based on information provided to us by the Tennessee Department of Transportation, the Coast Guard has determined that transit under the I-40 bridge is safe for maritime traffic," said Coast Guard Capt. Ryan Rhodes. "We appreciate the cooperative efforts of both the Tennessee and Arkansas Departments of Transportation, as well as maritime port partners, to ensure the safety of our waterway."
The blockage of the Mississippi — a major artery for U.S. ag commodities that will be exported through the Gulf of Mexico — evoked strong concerns from farm groups, worried that producers might be forced to shift to using railroads and push up transportation costs.
“Almost every barge loaded with soybeans, corn, or other agricultural commodity along the Upper Mississippi, Ohio, Illinois, or Missouri rivers are destined to Gulf of Mexico export facilities near New Orleans and therefore must pass underneath the I-40 bridge,” said Mike Steenhoek, executive director of the Soy Transportation Coalition.
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While plenty of soybeans are still being shipped down the Mississippi for export, it's likely that corn has been impacted the most.
“There currently are 62 vessels with a total of 1,058 barges in the queue,” said Steenhoek. “It is uncertain when the backlog will be fully cleared, but I would expect it will take close to 48 hours. This is obviously good news. We look forward to seeing barge traffic on the Mississippi River back to normal conditions in the near future.”
While it is unclear what commodities are on those barges, most of them are southbound and recent data from USDA shows that last week about 982,000 short tons of corn and soybeans were transported down the river, said Steenhoek.
“As we move forward, it is my hope that this situation will further galvanize efforts to produce a comprehensive infrastructure investment strategy that addresses the needs of both urban and rural America,” Steenhoek said.
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