The first structures built on the U.S. inland waterways represented innovative thinking and design in every sense of the word.
And now, as industry seeks to modernize the aged system, forward thinking will again be critical. This time around, innovation won’t be limited to a singular construction feat as it was in the distant past. Innovation will require broad inclusion of stakeholders to exchange ideas relating to all aspects of the transportation system from engineering to project management.
Bill Hanson, vice president of government relations and U.S. business development for Great Lakes Dredge and Dock Company, LLC, and a 40-year industry veteran, sees opportunity for multi-faceted innovations that can help maximize efficiency on our waterways.
“It’s my belief that the next generation or two of American innovators may come up with a whole different way of transporting things,” says Hanson. “Maybe it’s larger barges, different kinds of tugs, deeper channels or different funding platforms.”
Developing innovative funding sources garners much attention as the industry seeks ways to complete the $8.7 billion worth of waterways projects that have been approved but not funded.
Making waterways innovation top-of-mind
With infrastructure issues garnering national political attention in recent months, legislators at both federal and state levels are committing more of their focus on the waterways.
Hanson says he is encouraged by the increased investment in waterway projects he’s seen from individual states in recent years, and appreciates the innovative ideas brought forward from governors.
Funding of any project can elicit strong opinions, but Hanson views all ideas as a healthy part of the innovation process. Likewise, exploring novel ways to fund infrastructure projects can help the U.S. develop a better plan for maintaining the longevity of a system.
New construction techniques, equipment upgrades and an industry-wide willingness to advance pilot projects differently are equally important to revitalizing our inland waterways.
“Ultimately, innovation will help us make sure that when something like a soybean crop is put on a barge, it gets moved to market as quickly as possible,” says Hanson.