Illinois Waterway System
Most Americans know very little about our nation's inland waterway system and the economic impact of goods traveling from local terminals to national and international destinations. Inland waterway systems are like arteries connecting the heart of the nation to the rest of the world, providing a vital highway for the import and export of life sustaining commodities. These commodities, valued at more than $23 billion, travel the 1,118 miles of Illinois Waterway annually. Nearly one-third is Illinois grain destined for export, and crucial to Illinois economy. The balance of cargo is comprised of coal and aggregates, chemicals, petroleum products and manufactured goods.
The Illinois River Waterway, approximatel 273 miles long, is part of the Upper Mississippi, Illinois and Mississippi River system, linking Central Illinois to the Great Lakes at Chicago, and the Port of New Orleans near the Gulf of Mexico. The Illinois River was an important water route for Native Americans, and continues its role in modern industrial shipping: In 2001, 33,669 tons of commodities made their way through the Peoria Lock, within the region of the Heart of Illinois Regional Port District. The Great Lakes and the Gulf are points of import and export connecting Central Illinois to the global economy, notably Europe, South America, and even Asia by way of the Panama Canal.
Agriculture, mining and manufacturing benefit from the ability to move bulk commodities in an energy and cost efficient manner by barge. The rivers provide thousand of jobs in industries directly related to transportation, and others only peripherally related.
Industry is not the only job-sustaining activity on the river, however. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), estimates that recreation and tourism employ some 143,000 people and provide more than $6.6 billion in revenue from millions of visitors who hunt, fish, boat and sightsee. (See Illinois River Road National Scenic Byway.)