Upper Mississippi River Lock and Dam

What would happen if something were to stop the flow of goods along the Upper Mississippi River? Researchers at the Mid-America Freight Coalition (MAFC), headquartered at the National Center for Freight & Infrastructure Research & Education (CFIRE) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, explored the costs of failure of the systems that support freight shipments along this waterway. The results of their investigation have been released in a report titled, “Modal Investment Comparison: The Impact of Upper Mississippi River Lock and Dam Shutdowns on State Highway Infrastructure.” The report provides guidance to states around the costs and benefits of infrastructure maintenance and investment decisions.

An important component of the Midwest economy, the Upper Mississippi River is responsible for the movement of over $88 billion in goods annually. This is a crucial mode of freight movement, especially for the states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, and Missouri, which rely on the waterway to export their agricultural products and other raw materials. Unfortunately, the infrastructure that makes freight movement along this waterway possible is in a fragile state with many points of potential failure. The precarious situation begs the question whether the region’s states can afford to maintain the waterway infrastructure or, alternatively, take on the added expenses that would be incurred when other modes absorb displaced freight movement in the event of a failure.

Accumulated Traffic in Event of Lock Failure

This map shows how a failure in the lock and dam system along the Upper Mississippi River would result in a cascade of accumulating truck traffic along the region’s highways. The line thickness represents the millions of tons of agricultural exports from the affected states that would be forced onto highways on their journey to domestic and international markets.

“The Mississippi River is of vital importance to the economies of Iowa, the Upper Midwest, and the nation as a whole,” said Sam Hiscocks, Freight Coordinator at the Iowa Department of Transportation. “With agricultural exports expected to increase and the expansion of the Panama Canal shifting the amount of goods that can be shipped via ports on the Gulf of Mexico, the State of Iowa has a strong interest in the condition of the Mississippi River infrastructure.”

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The US DOT is soliciting ideas and feedback about elements of the national freight policy as outlined in MAP-21.

A key component of the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21) is its focus on developing coordinated national freight policies. The purpose of National Online Dialogue on Freight Policy (September 13, 2012 to September 23, 2012) is to provide the United States Department of Transportation’s partners and stakeholders the opportunity to discuss and provide suggestions on considerations that should be given in the implementation of MAP-21. The dialogue will cover three areas: (1) Measuring the condition and performance of the freight system; (2) State freight planning; and (3) Elements of a national freight strategic plan.

To register and submit an idea, visit

For additional information on freight provisions in MAP-21, visit

National Dialogue on Transportation Performance Measures

September 18, 2012

The US DOT is soliciting ideas and feedback about national performance measures for transportation. The cornerstone of the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21) is its focus on developing a performance and outcome-based federal transportation program. The National Online Dialogue on MAP-21 Transportation Performance Measures will run from September 13 to […]

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RITA Administrator Appel Visits CFIRE

July 10, 2009

On July 10, 2009 the Wisconsin Transportation Center and CFIRE hosted a visit from USDOT RITA Administrator Peter Appel.

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