UofM Receives U.S. Department of Transportation Funding for Water Research 

May 4, 2023 — Dr. Mihalis Golias, professor in the UofM’s Department of Civil Engineering and co-director of C-TIER, has received funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation to support the research of inland waterways. 

"The United States inland waterways system, also known as the backbone of the transportation logistic system, directly connects 28 states and plays a crucial role in our nation’s competitiveness and economic growth supporting efficient, safe and sustainable transport for multiple commodities including agriculture, chemicals and building materials,” said Golias. 

The cost to transport commodities on the inland waterways is roughly half the cost to ship by rail. Estimated transportation cost savings, according to the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce range from $7 billion to $9 billion annually. By 2045, it is expected that the U.S. Inland Waterways System (IWS) will contribute (in)directly $121 billion in economic output, 450,000 jobs, and $62.3 billion in GDP. Inland waterway transportation provides effective means of expanding capacity with less environmental and funding issues compared to other modes of transportation. 

The goal of the project is to develop a set of recommended strategic objectives for the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) that support safe, reliable and resilient use of TNs IWS and, at the same time, maximize economic impact, support investment decisions and foster workforce preservation and development. 

To achieve this goal, this research has the objectives to develop a knowledge bank on best practices on inland waterway programs, web-based and desktop Data Analytics and Decision Support (DADS) tools that analyze and synthesize the available data on TNs IWS and its assets (e.g., ports, terminals, locks, etc.) into a set of performance stressors, metrics and indices. 

Achieving these objectives will allow TDOT to perform in-house analysis of TNs IWS commodity flows through its ports, terminals and other intermodal facilities; identify stressors of TNs IWS and its assets; identify and prioritize investments to accommodate current and projected growth of critical commodities favorable for waterway transport and modal shift (from truck. rail); support the development of a waterway program in TN and leverage federal funding opportunities; and to identify and foster partnership opportunities. 

At the completion of this project, a set of recommended strategic objectives for TDOT to undertake and improve TNs IWS will be delivered. Benefits from the information and data collected, analyzed and synthesized, and the tools developed include the ability for TDOT to: 

  1. Analyze critical inland waterway infrastructure and dependencies; 
  2. Select and prioritize inland waterway investments to improve freight movements in Tennessee to minimize externalities from truck and rail while benefiting economic and equitable growth; 
  3. Quantify the impacts of disruptive events at specific inland waterway assets that affect specific commodities; 
  4. Identify and evaluate enhancement alternatives for inland waterway assets; 
  5. Better plan for mitigation to minimize disruptions from stressors of TNs IWS; 
  6. Quantify research data through practical experience with river and system operators, and 
  7. Improve representation of inland waterway modes in their multimodal freight travel demand model. 

For more information on this research, contact Golias at mgkolias@memphis.edu