Great Lakes Seaway study released

The governments of Canada and the USA today released the results of the Great Lakes St. Lawrence Seaway Study (GLSLSS), which was commissioned in May 2003. The study evaluates the infrastructure needs of the Great Lakes St. Lawrence Seaway system, specifically the engineering, economic and environmental implications of those needs as they pertain to the commercial marine transportation infrastructure.

The study focused on the 50-year-old Seaway system’s long-term maintenance and capital requirements to maximize the potential of the Seaway’s existing marine transportation infrastructure in its current configuration by:

  • Evaluating the condition, reliability and maintenance needs of the system;
  • Assessing the engineering, economic and environmental factors associated with future needs; and
  • Identifying other factors that affect the domestic and global marine transportation industries using the Seaway system, including improved links to other transportation modes and technologies.

It was structured under three working groups: economic, environment and engineering. Seven government organizations from the two countries collaborated on GLSLSS:

  1. Transport Canada (
  2. U.S. Department of Transportation (
  3. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (
  4. The St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation (Canada) (
  5. Environment Canada (
  6. The Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation (U.S.) (
  7. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (

Overall, the study’s management team received a total of 73 formal presentations and 32 written submissions in the five public meetings held in Canadian and U.S. cities.


The study identifies four main observations, each with key considerations that should be taken into account by the Canadian and U.S. governments, and by industry stakeholders, when deciding the Seaway’s future:

  1. The GLSLS system has the potential to alleviate congestion on the road and rail transportation networks as well as at border crossings in the Great Lakes Basin and St. Lawrence River region.
    Key considerations:

    • The GLSLS system is currently only operating at about half its potential capacity and is therefore under-utilized.
    • Given projected growth in the economy and trade, all modes of transportation in both countries will be faced with increases in traffic.
    • When integrated with rail and trucking, the region’s marine mode can greatly increase the overall capacity of the transportation system while reducing highway, railway and cross-border congestion.
    • A research and development agenda would help to advance the use of new technologies to improve the efficiency of marine transportation as well as strengthen its linkages to other transport modes.
  2. A stronger focus on shortsea shipping would allow the GLSLS system to be more closely integrated with the road and rail transportation systems, while providing shippers with a cost-effective, timely and reliable means to transport goods.
    Key considerations:

    • Incentives need to be identified and promoted to encourage the use of marine transportation as a complement to the road and rail transportation modes.
    • Institutional impediments that discourage the provision of shortsea shipping services need to be addressed.
    • Potential opportunities to encourage the establishment of cross-lake shortsea shipping services could be identified on a pilot project basis.
    • The existing Memorandum of Cooperation and Declaration on Shortsea Shipping, adopted by Canada and the U.S. in 2003 and 2006, respectively, could be used to continue to advance the North American shortsea shipping agenda.
  3. The existing infrastructure of the GLSLS system must be maintained in good operating condition in order to ensure the continued safety, efficiency, reliability and competitiveness of the system.
    Key considerations:

    • Any GLSLS infrastructure components identified as at risk and critical to the continuing smooth operations of the system should be addressed on a priority basis.
    • The existing GLSLS infrastructure requires ongoing capital investment to ensure that the system can continue to provide reliable transportation services in the future.
    • Modern technology, especially in areas such as control, should be used to maintain the GLSLS system in a state that preserves its capability to respond to changing and unpredictable market conditions.
    • The development of a long-term asset management strategy would help to anticipate problems with GLSLS infrastructure before they occur and avoid potential disruptions that would reduce the overall efficiency and reliability of the system.
    • Investment options with respect to the system would involve numerous factors such as long-term planning, innovative funding approaches, partnerships among governments and collaboration between the public and private sectors.
  4. The long-term health and success of the GLSLS system will depend in part on its sustainability, including the further reduction of negative ecological impacts caused by commercial navigation.
    Key considerations:

    • The GLSLS system should be managed in a way that prevents the inadvertent introduction and transmission of non-indigenous invasive species and supports the objectives of programs designed to minimize or eliminate their impact.
    • The existing sustainable navigation strategy for the St. Lawrence River could be extended to the Great Lakes Basin.
    • The movement and suspension of sediments caused by shipping or operations related to navigation should be managed by developing a GLSLS system-wide strategy that addresses the many challenges associated with dredged material and looks for beneficial re-use opportunities.
    • Ship emissions should be minimized through the use of new fuels, new technologies or different navigational practices.
    • Islands and narrow channel habitats should be protected from the impacts of vessel wakes.
    • There is a need to improve our understanding of the social, technical and environmental impacts of long-term declines in water levels as related to navigation, and identify mitigation strategies.
    • Improvements should be made to short- and long-term environmental monitoring of mitigation activities.


For more information, or to download the full Great Lakes St. Lawrence Seaway Study report (128 pp., 5.1 MB), see Readers may also be interested in Value of St. Lawrence Seaway questioned.

Comments Invited

Over the coming months, Canada and the United States will discuss potential next steps regarding the overall findings of the study. Interested parties are invited to provide feedback on the final report, which will be provided to the above noted organizations for their consideration. Written feedback received by January 18, 2008 will be posted to the study website.

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  1. Pingback: Great Lakes St. Lawrence Seaway Study - Final Report « Great Lakes Water Wars

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