Editor’s note: This report is a component of the Arkansas Transportation Report, a monthly compilation of data and news regarding the trucking, railroad, airline, and river barge industries. The report is sponsored by the Arkansas Trucking Association and the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce.
Old man river giveth and he taketh away. Lately, he’s in a giving mood. Tonnage shipped on the Arkansas River is up almost 33% for the first six months of 2016, a big jump from when heavy rains slowed or stopped river traffic for many months in 2015.
Tonnage shipped on the river in the January-June period totaled 5.913 million tons, up 32.7% compared to 4.455 million tons in the same period of 2015. June saw 979,684 tons shipped on the river, well ahead of the dismal 390,084 tons shipped in June 2015.
Thanks to unusual amounts of rainfall in 2015, tonnage on the Arkansas River was down 15% compared to 2014, and fell below 10 million tons for the first time in at least four years. Information from the U.S. Corps of Engineers shows that 9.962 million tons were shipped in 2015. Tonnage totaled 11.719 million tons in 2014, down from the 12.139 million in 2013 but better than the 11.687 million in 2012 and the 10.6 million in 2011.
In the January-June period, inbound tonnage totaled 2.502 million tons, up 14% compared to the same period in 2015. Outbound tonnage on the Arkansas River was up 57%, and internal tonnage (tons shipped between ports on the river) totaled 1.449 million tons, up 43%.
Most of the key products shipped on the river posted gains in the first half of 2016. Following are the top five categories of items moved on the river in the January-June period compared to the same period in 2015.
Jan-June 2016: 1.676 million tons
Jan-June 2015: 1.044 million tons
Jan-June 2016: 1.593 million tons
Jan-June 2015: 1.156 million tons
Jan-June 2016: 603,380 tons
Jan-June 2015: 701,125 tons
Jan-June 2016: 583,000 tons
Jan-June 2015: 490,500 tons
Jan-June 2016: 512,600 tons
Jan-June 2015: 263,600 tons
Marty Shell, owner of Van Buren-based Five Rivers Distribution, operates the port of Fort Smith and port facilities in Van Buren. He said 2016 is shaping up to be a year of recovery on the river. His operations handled 76,019 tons in the second quarter of 2016, well ahead of the 39,351 tons during the second quarter of 2015.
Bryan Day, executive director of the Little Rock Port Authority, said operations at the port “compare favorably” to 2015, but he said port activity could fall off in the back half of 2016.
“The next several months at the Port could show a slight decrease in tonnage, primarily due to low oil prices and the impact it is having on industry; however, I still believe that the Port of Little Rock will have a strong year in terms of tonnage across our docks,” Day said.
The Arkansas River system is 445 miles long and stretches from the confluence of the Mississippi River to the Port of Catoosa near Tulsa, Okla. The controlled waterway has 18 locks and dams, with 13 in Arkansas and five in Oklahoma. The river also has five ports: Pine Bluff, Little Rock, Fort Smith, Muskogee, Okla., and the Tulsa Port of Catoosa in Oklahoma.