Barge Jam Cleared, but Trucking Snags Persist Near Memphis

All types of businesses, including those in the agriculture sector, were left breathing a sigh of relief last weekend, after a major backlog of barges was cleared on the Mississippi River.

A traffic jam on the lower Mississippi River swelled to 771 barges on May 13, as a fractured bridge near Memphis, Tennessee closed a major waterway that’s crucial for U.S. crop exports.

Though the river was eventually reopened late last Friday, freeing over 1,000 stuck barges, the shutdown fueled concerns about shipping U.S. grain and soy to export markets at a time when global inventories are slim and prices are near eight-year highs.


Where the river closed, 26 vessels with 430 barges were waiting to pass north and 21 vessels with 341 barges were in the queue to go south, said Petty Officer Carlos Galarza, a Coast Guard spokesman, as reported by Reuters (May 13).

The day before, a total of 411 barges carrying crude oil, dry cargo like crops, and other materials were backed up in both directions.

Nearly all grain barges must pass beneath the bridge on their way to Gulf of Mexico export facilities near New Orleans after being loaded along the upper Mississippi, Ohio, Illinois, or Missouri rivers, according to the Soy Transportation Coalition.


The river reopened as of 9 a.m. CDT on May 14, after being closed for three days, according to the Coast Guard, providing relief to the queue of 62 vessels and 1,058 barges, reported Transport Topics (May 14).

Priorities for vessel traffic will be, in order: Department of Defense, red flag fuel barges, passenger boats, southbound cargoes and northbound cargoes. The reopening will be a “big help for American agriculture,” said Dan Basse, president of Chicago-based consultants AgResource, to Transport Topics.

“The record large U.S. summer corn export program is not threatened,” he added. There “should not be any big snags as long as two-way traffic can persist.”

However, the bridge itself remains closed to vehicles indefinitely. The Arkansas Trucking Association estimated the closure would cost the trucking industry at least $2.4 million a day because of the longer routes to cross the river, citing data provided by the American Transportation Research Institute.