The 1951 movie “Chicago Calling” is about the struggles of a down-and-out man to raise $53 to restore his phone service to receive a long distance call on the status of his daughter, who was seriously injured in an accident.
The brownwater sector version of this movie might be named “Panama Canal Calling,” where a hypothetical U.S. port struggles to raise $500 million in order to pay for dredging to 50′ so it can handle large post-Panamax ships.
Most of the dialogue of this story would not be about the new super size container ships. It is a fact that these large vessels will call East and Gulf Coast ports via the expanded Panama Canal. Some already do via Europe and the Mediterranean.
Instead, “Panama Canal Calling” would be all about bulk shipping and deepening the Lower Mississippi River south of Baton Rouge, La.
The expansion of the Panama Canal will allow post-Panamax bulk ships to load at U.S. ports, notably in Texas and Louisiana, and transit the canal to call at Far East ports. There will be considerable distance savings versus the longer Suez Canal route.
The real dialogue of the story will be the extent of the shift of U.S. grain exports from West Coast ports to Gulf ports. This is where it would get exciting for the brownwater sector.
Overall, brownwater tonnages are growing slowly like the tepid economy. However, a deeper Lower Mississippi River would be more competitive with West Coast ports for grain exports to the Far East. It would allow more grain to move south via the river rather than west via rail. This is more important since China is now becoming a major grain importer, including sourcing from the U.S.
The exact shift of grain exports south to the Gulf by barge as opposed to the West Coast by rail will be worked out.
Evidence suggests that a deeper Lower Mississippi River would be a strong growth catalyst for an otherwise very slow growing inland barge industry.