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Oklahoma Waterway Takes Prestigious Step Up in National Status

Friday, May 15, 2015


May 15, 2015
PR# 15-024

            A 445-mile stretch of waterway connecting Oklahoma to the Gulf of Mexico is joining the ranks of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers as a major shipping route. The United States Department of Transportation announced in early May 2015 that the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System (MKARNS) is officially upgraded from a “Connector” to a “Corridor” on the national Marine Highway Route and added the Oklahoma Department of Transportation as an official sponsor for this route.

            The corridor designation elevates the MKARNS to the same status level as 11 other large waterway systems nationwide and gives it a higher priority in future funding opportunities for improvements. This upgrade reflects the continued growth of the system, which also helps with flood control management and is a recreational draw in the region. The MKARNS had a nearly nine percent increase in freight shipments in the past two years. In 2014, almost six million tons of goods were moved by barge on the Oklahoma segment, valued at about $2.5 billion.

            “These changes will bolster support for the MKARNS, which will greatly improve reliability in navigation, hydropower generation and flood risk reduction,” U.S. Senator James Inhofe said. “It will also improve the infrastructure for the safe and affordable shipment of billions of dollars’ worth of wheat; soybeans; sand and gravel; iron and steel and other goods. This is a step in the right direction and the benefits to the communities will reach far beyond the banks of the river.”

            The MKARNS system extends from the Tulsa Port of Catoosa through Oklahoma and Arkansas before connecting to the Mississippi River. It was dedicated in 1971, and was designated as the M-40 Marine Highway connector route in 2010 with the Arkansas Waterways Commission as the sponsor. With two of the five public ports on the MKARNS located in Oklahoma, the addition of ODOT as a sponsor route helps strengthen the ongoing commitments by each state to grow the system as a multi-modal transportation solution.

            “Just one barge on the system carries the equivalent of 15 jumbo railcars, or 60 large semi-trucks,” ODOT Executive Director Mike Patterson said. “By having this vital waterways corridor in our state, it not only provides a unique commerce link for our state and surrounding areas to the Gulf Coast but it also relieves some of the wear and tear to our highway system.”

            This announcement follows another recent designation change to the MKARNS by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which upgraded it from a moderate to high-use waterway system. The high-use designation is for systems carrying more than 10 million tons and more than $3 billion ton miles of commodities per year. The 2014 tonnage on the MKARNS system in both Oklahoma and Arkansas totaled nearly 12 million tons with a value of just over $4 billion. 

“A vibrant and healthy MKARNS is vital to Oklahoma’s economy, and it is appropriate that we recognize the role this waterway system plays for both Oklahoma and Arkansas,” U.S. Rep. Markwayne Mullin said. “I look forward to continuing the work to strengthen MKARNS’ role as a freight corridor for Oklahoma’s manufacturers, farmers and businesses.”

Last Modified on Oct 23, 2020
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