Cash Market Moves

Mississippi River Ports Offer Assistance After Baltimore Bridge Collapse

Mary Kennedy
By  Mary Kennedy , DTN Basis Analyst
Connect with Mary:
The Mississippi River is home to not only barge traffic, but from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, down to the New Orleans Gulf, bulk cargo ships share the river with towboats that push the barges. Container ships cannot move upriver from NOLA because they are too large both in size and draft. (Photo courtesy Greater Port of Baton Rouge, Louisiana)

Mayors of towns and cities along the Mississippi River hosted several national organizations at a news teleconference on March 28, 2024, to offer insights on plans and options for keeping the U.S. supply chain open, the possible increases in shipping traffic and the related capacity requirements of the Mississippi River and the ports servicing the river.

"Our thoughts and support extend to our friends and colleagues in Baltimore, and we stand ready to assist as needed," said La Crosse, Wisconsin, Mayor Mitch Reynolds.

Reynolds, co-chair of the of the Mississippi River Cities and Towns Initiative (MRCTI) added, "Since 2015, the Mayors of MRCTI have been steadily working with industry and federal partners to increase the capacity of Mississippi River port and intermodal infrastructure across the corridor, contributing to nearly $100 million in new investment into Mississippi River supply chain capacity."

"The question is how can we assist in receiving Baltimore diversions and can we intermodal that freight to the rest of the country efficiently? The Port of New Orleans is the Mississippi River's gateway port to the world, generating more than $100 million in revenue annually. Port NOLA is exceeding the 500,000 TEU threshold year after year six times in a row," said Belinda Constant, mayor of Gretna, Louisiana and MRCTI Louisiana State Chair.

Janine Mansour, head of key accounts at Port NOLA, said, "From the perspective of offering freight and vessel solutions to shippers that are using Baltimore, we recognize that neighboring East Coast ports are first ports of call and 18 vessels scheduled to Baltimore between the crisis and Tuesday were already diverted." She added that using the East Coast infrastructure will be the first and most logical option from a logistics standpoint.

"Looking at how we can offer solutions in New Orleans and up the Mississippi River, we certainly have the intermodal rail capacity as well as capacity on the river to present solutions for noncontainerized freight," she added.


"The tragedy in Baltimore has shined light on the interconnected nature of the nation's transportation and port infrastructure. As funds from the transformative Bipartisan Infrastructure Law continue to make their way to states and communities, this event highlights the need to build with resilience and redundancy in mind," said Norma Jean Mattei, PhD, PE, and past president of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). "Our nation's infrastructure received a C- in its 2021 Report Card for America's Infrastructure, and the way we manage, operate and modify these systems over the decades plays just as crucial a role in improving this grade as the physical structures we build."

Mattei said during the call that when barges do hit bridges on the river, traffic is stopped to assess damage and remove sunken barges. "Barges are not at all the same type of vessel as a large container vessel or large bulker, so it's a different amount of energy that the bridge pier would absorb."

Probably the most recent scare to commerce on the Mississippi River came on May 11, 2021, when an inspection discovered a partially fractured beam on the Hernando de Soto Bridge crossing the Mississippi River at Memphis, Tennessee. Given the beam was one of a pair of load-bearing tension members critical to the structural integrity of the bridge's design, the bridge was structurally unsound, at risk of collapse and was shut down. River traffic was immediately halted until engineers could inspect the entire bridge. River traffic was able to restart three days later as initial repairs were being made that would not affect barge movements below.

Upriver from Memphis is the Vicksburg Bridge, the northernmost crossing of the Mississippi River in Louisiana open to motor vehicles. In 2013 state officials announced projects to improve the stability of the bridge, and to install underwater radar to assist barge captains in avoiding the bridge, which had been struck by barges repeatedly since its construction.

"Vicksburg hosts the only bridge across the Mississippi River in a 156-mile stretch from Greenville to Natchez. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law provides $40 billion in dedicated funding for bridges prioritizing resilience and protection. Along the Mississippi River, the top three states for bridge formula allocation are Illinois, Louisiana and Iowa in that order. Resilience is a priority in this spending and cities are working with their states to ensure we improve our ability to better sustain impacts," stated Mayor George Flaggs of Vicksburg, Mississippi, and MRCTI co-chair.


-- What is TEU?…

-- ASCE Infrastructure report card:…

Mary Kennedy can be reached at

Follow her on X, formerly Twitter, @MaryCKenn