We may be seeing a downward trend, but there are too many factors to know for sure. That's what Ron Fournier from the Corps of Engineers says about barge traffic in the Quad Cities in 2013. For all of last year, 13.7 million tons of freight travelled through Lock 15. That's about 44 percent lower than the record tonnage of 31.2 million set in 1999.
Fournier says, "If you look at 2007, it's been a trend slowly going downwards if you don't look at 2008 as definitive because that was quite a bit of shipping delays due to the lock closures. But we are seeing at the moment looking just at the numbers at Lock and Dam 15 itself, there's a trend that the numbers are going down. But Lock and Dam 15 is only one of many, many locks, and you have to look down at the lower system where it's coming from the Illinois waterway going into the Mississippi, and looking at all that tonnage also."
He thinks at least part of the reason for the traffic decline is the drought in 2012 that continued into last year. "The largest amount of tonnage that went through Lock 15 was corn. And that was 1.97, so basically two million tons of corn went through Lock 15 in 2013. And then that's followed by fertilizers at about 1.8 million tons, and soybeans, coal, and then cement. And then it goes on from there."
Even though corn yields are historically high, Fournier says a lot of the crop is being used in the US, instead of exported and shipped down the Mississippi River.