Transportation infrastructure projects reduce congestion and improve efficiency, which improves economic returns, reduces traffic related deaths, limits environmental impacts and reduces government expenditures. Often when promoting transportation infrastructure projects, the primary focus is on the positive economic impact while many of the other benefits receive much less attention. Transportation projects that involve roadways and waterways depend on public funding. The health of the environment continues to be a very important issue, which means educating the public about environmental advantages of transportation projects are also very important.
Road projects are often funded because drivers demand the roads are repaired. For rail and barge, the lack of public interaction results in a lower level of concern. One way to build support for rail and barge transportation projects is to demonstrate how transporting freight by these modes has lower emissions than truck. A great example of helping the environment is public funding aimed at updating and improving the Inland Mississippi Waterways System. Although all transportation modes will have an impact on the environment, it should be noted that floating cargo on a barge has a lower impact than operating a truck as demonstrated by A Modal Comparison of Domestic Freight Transportation Effects on the General Public: 2001–2014 (January 2017), that was conducted by the Texas Transportation Institute’s Center for Port and Waterways at Texas A&M University. The table below demonstrates how emissions per gram traveled one mile vary by transportation mode. If freight can be transported by rail and barge versus truck, emissions will be lower.
Institute for Water Resources, Navigation and Civil Works Decision Support Center for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reported that the Illinois Waterway transported 7.9 billion ton-miles of freight in 2017. Illinois Waterway is a major river segment for soybean exports. By multiplying the values in the table Summary of Emissions (Tons per Million Ton-Miles) by 7,900 million ton-miles, Illinois Waterways Emissions totals were determined and presented in the following table. A river failure that required the barge freight to be shipped by truck would result is an annual increase of 1.2 million tons of emissions.