The results of an economic impact report on the benefits of deepening the Mississippi River to 50 feet from its current 45-foot draft were released in August. The Big River Coalition a multi-state maritime trade association and the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development commissioned the study by noted economist Tim Ryan PhD. entitled “The Economic Impact of Deepening the Mississippi River to 50 Feet.”
Ryan determined a deeper channel allowing for larger vessels to maximize cargo throughput would create $11.49 billion in increased U.S. production generate 16991 new permanent jobs and account for $849.5 million in increased income for American workers.
The Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 1986 originally authorized the Lower Mississippi River channel to be deepened to 55 feet; however the channel was never deepened below 45 feet due to the requirements by the federal government requiring annual maintenance beyond 45 feet to be the responsibility of the local sponsor or the state of Louisiana in this case.
Recent language passed by the Senate in the latest WRDA bill would shift maintenance costs up to 50-foot drafts to the federal level. Industry leaders and the Big River Coalition agreed upon a reduced draft from 55 feet to 50 feet to match the controlling draft of the new locks on the Panama Canal.
The plan to deepen the Lower Mississippi River would be accomplished in two phases. Phase one would deepen Southwest Pass to Venice Louisiana or Mile 10 above Head of Passes – a 30-mile stretch of river. The first phase would automatically open 175 miles of river to a 50-foot channel due to the river’s naturally deep channel. Estimates are Phase I’s construction costs would be $195 million with annual maintenance costs of $60 million. Phase II would begin at Belmont Crossing and dredge several river crossings to Mile 232 at the Baton Rouge Harbor at a cost of $105 million with annual maintenance costs of $30 million.