The Great Lakes Transportation Corridor, often referred to as the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence Seaway, is an important transportation system of lakes, locks, canals and rivers connecting the center of North America manufacturing to the global marketplace.
Efficient transportation systems keep the U.S. competitive in global trade. Our basic labor and manufacturing costs are generally higher than our competitors, but our logistical skills and highly advanced transportation networks reduce overall costs to such an extent that it allows us to compete.
The environmental, economic, and social impacts of waterborne commerce in the Great Lakes compare advantageously to other forms of transporting cargo. However, the underutilized Great Lakes Transportation Corridor is constrained by uneven tariffs and taxes, undersized infrastructure, the threat of biological pollution, and a general lack of both national and international awareness of opportunities.
Entrance and exit to the Great Lakes Transportation Corridor is limited by the size of the locks at the Welland Canal, which only allows ships up to 225.5 m (740 ft.) with 8.08 m (26.5 ft.) drafts to carry cargo the 3,700 kilometers (2,342 statute miles) from the Atlantic Ocean as far as the Port of Duluth-Superior, a trip that takes approximately 8.5 sailing days. Larger, bulk carriers, sometimes exceeding 1,000 feet (305-meters), trade exclusively within the Great Lakes dwarfing salties (smaller ships that can exit the Seaway), tugs, barges, ferries, and recreational watercraft. The ten-month navigation season is ice-dependant, typically beginning in late March and ending in late December.
The major cargos currently exchanged through waterborne commerce on the Great Lakes are:
- iron ore
- limestone and gypsum
- and special heavy-lift cargo
Currently there is no containerized cargo trade on the Great Lakes.
About 50% of Seaway traffic is ocean-going, primarily serving ports in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The multi-billion-dollar commerce occurring along the Great Lakes Transportation Corridor continues to support the economic, environmental, and social wellbeing of both the U.S. and Canada.