Construction of locks and dams on the nation’s main rivers and tributaries began in the 1920’s.
Locks and dams are a crucial part of the approximately 12,000 miles of inland waterway transportation system we use across the nation. Originally developed with a primary focus on moving bulk goods to market at a significant savings to producers and consumers alike, other significant benefits have been realized over time. Increased recreation opportunities, flood control, hydroelectric power generation, and water supply for municipal and agricultural use are additional benefits waterways provide.
Kentucky has over 1,900 miles of USACE designated navigable waterways and the highest total of inland USACE designated navigable waterways for any state in the continental USA.
Kentucky’s waterways are a valuable transportation resource, providing a link between the Great Lakes, Canada, Mexico, and the Panama Canal. More than 92 million tons of cargo, predominantly coal and aggregates, were transported through Kentucky’s waterways during 2011.
The Ohio River provides 664 miles of navigable waterways along the northern boundary of Kentucky.
The Ohio River also encompasses a large portion of the federally designated Marine Highway Corridor (MHC) M-70. Along Kentucky’s boundary, the Mississippi River provides 63 miles of navigable waterways per USACE. Along the western boundary of Kentucky, the Mississippi River is a portion of MHC M-55 and the Tennessee River in western Kentucky is a portion of MHC M-65. Designation in the Marine Highway System identifies an opportunity to alleviate freight-related congestion on existing parallel land routes, which leads to reduced emissions, energy conservation, improved safety, and reduced road maintenance costs.
The Marine Highway Corridors may also contribute to increased economic and commercial activity in the region by removing barriers to efficient freight transportation.
Kentucky’s numerous private and public riverports offer connectivity between navigable waterways, rail and major highway corridors; access to equipment to trans-load freight between the transportation modes; and storage facilities.