Lock and Dam 2 in Hastings

Mississippi River Highways Reopen for 2024 as Towboat Leads the Way

The mighty Mississippi is flowing with commerce once again! The first towboat of the 2024 navigation season has passed through Lock and Dam 2 in Hastings, Minnesota, ushering in another year of vital shipping activities.

On March 17th, the Motor Vessel Joseph Patrick Eckstein made its way upriver pushing 12 barges filled with cargo.

This annual rite of spring marks the unofficial start of the navigation season for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ St. Paul District.

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Earlier Than Average Arrival

The Joseph Patrick Eckstein arrives a bit earlier than normal this year.

While not the earliest arrival on record – that came on March 4th in 1983, 1984, and 2000 – it beats the average start date of March 22nd for river traffic reopening in the region.

Last season kicked off on March 12, 2023 when the Motor Vessel Phillip M Pfeffer was the first tow boat through.

The 2023 navigation season then wrapped up on December 5th as the Motor Vessel Thomas Erickson departed Lock and Dam 10 near Guttenberg, Iowa.

Prepping the River Highways

But before the shipping highways could reopen this spring, there was work to be done getting the river ready. The Corps spent the winter months performing maintenance at four key lock and dam sites along the Mississippi.

Repairs were completed at locks 2, 3, 4, and 7 by March 16th to ensure the 9-foot navigation channel from Minneapolis to Guttenberg was ship-shape for the new season.

Lock and Dam #2

You can get an up close look at Lock and Dams all along the Mississippi. Get a full look at Lock and Dam #2.

Mississippi River Lock and Dam Number 2

Economic Lifeline for Agriculture

The river’s reopening is vital for economic flows in the region and across the nation.

This waterway network formed by the Mississippi River and its system of locks and dams provides an extremely cost-effective route for agricultural producers and shippers to move bulk commodities.

Estimates show that shipping by water saves around $1 per bushel for crops like corn and soybeans compared to overland transportation methods.

Those savings really add up – the commercial navigation industry estimates the river system saves nearly $400 million annually versus trucking or rail.

Reducing Impacts on Roads and Environment

Beyond just cost savings, the river eases burdens on the nation’s roads and bridges. A single 15-barge tow can handle freight equivalent to over 1,000 semi-truck loads!

As you can imagine, shifting all that shipping onto highways would dramatically increase truck traffic, wear-and-tear on roadways, and emissions.

Rivers of Commerce Keep Flowing

So as the Joseph Patrick Eckstein leads the fleet upriver, it reopens vital economic arteries that allow commerce to flow efficiently again.

The big towboat is just the first of many to navigate these river highways over the next shipping season.

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