An Analysis of the Illinois Maritime Transportation System

Illinois has 1,118 miles of navigable waterways passing through or bordering the state. From a commercial transportation perspective, these navigable rivers and Lake Michigan make up the Illinois Maritime Transportation System.  The system primarily transports freight. Passenger travel on these waters is most often for recreation.

The Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) has affirmed the importance of multimodal transportation infrastructure to include all existing modes. IDOT has proposed regaining a role of promotion and support for Illinois ports and inland waterways relative to maritime freight transportation.

In the near future, IDOT plans to re-engage port and inland waterway stakeholders to include them in planning efforts that support multimodal opportunities, and to identify major issues and advocate usage of maritime transportation. The inclusion of ports and inland waterways into overall IDOT planning, development, and implementation programs would ensure a truly comprehensive transportation system in Illinois.

Principal Investigator(s):

Robert Ginsburg, PhD
Lise Dirks, MA


Robert Ginsburg, PhD
Lise Dirks, MA




To produce a research report that provides IDOT with an analysis of the Illinois Maritime Transportation System in order to effectively plan, develop and implement maritime into a comprehensive statewide transportation system.


Illinois industries are responsible for nearly 20% of the waterborne freight shipments in the United States; however, Illinois has a fragmented system to provide oversight and support for the maritime industry. This report analyzed the current Illinois maritime transportation system and provided perspectives on how other states manage maritime operations.

Expected Results or Products:

The report provided a detailed analysis of the overall Illinois waterway network, plus specific chapters regarding:  Agricultural exports, key components of the system, locks and dams, ports and harbors, and maritime operations in six other U.S. states.

IDOT needs to create the support infrastructure that recognizes the value the maritime freight system provides to the Illinois economy and its role in a multimodal freight transportation system.

Researchers identified five key recommendations:

  1. Establish stable staffing to provide knowledgeable and consistent support to the port districts and industries that use the maritime transportation system.
  2. Provide financial assistance, ideally with surrounding states, for planning and construction to upgrade Port facilities and jointly develop market analyses as Wisconsin, Missouri and Ohio have begun.
  3. Continue long term engagement and intergovernmental relationships with federal agencies, and other industry organizations and representatives
  4. Take the lead and create interagency structures and public/private entities bringing various state agencies and public/private stakeholders together to establish statewide needs.
  5. Support research and market analyses that create the sound data to better understand the quantities, sources and destinations of shipped goods so that sound business plans can be developed to grow Illinois’ Maritime Freight industry.

Download a presentation on the Illinois Maritime Transportation System research delivered September 27, 2017 by Robert Ginsburg at the Illinois Chamber of Commerce Infrastructure Council 2017 Third Quarter Meeting held in Chicago.


Download the report


Robert Ginsburg, PhD
Urban Transportation Center
University of Illinois at Chicago
412 South Peoria Street, Suite 340
Chicago, IL 60607
Voice: (312) 413-4663
Fax: (312) 413-0006




Illinois Department of Transportation