In these days of COVID-19 and the omicron variant, there is a great success story I am honored to tell. When you see a barge being pushed up or down the Arkansas River, you can smile because you are reaping the benefits every time you go to the store.
Several weeks ago, we had a terrific speaker at our local weekly Kiwanis Club meeting. Her name is Cassandra Caldwell, and she was not only knowledgeable but also very articulate. Cassandra is the director of the Arkansas Waterways Commission based in Little Rock. This state agency was established in 1967 and is responsible for developing and promoting waterborne transportation in Arkansas.
They also promote economic development for ports on our state's commercially navigable rivers: the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System on the Arkansas River, Ouachita, White, Red, and Mississippi rivers. Commission duties are concerned specifically with navigation activities, port development, and the use and protection of the navigable streams within or adjacent to the state. The McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System is named for the two U.S. senators -- John L. McClellan from Arkansas and Robert Kerr from Oklahoma -- who secured the funding for the project. The U.S. inland waterways system consists of 12,000 miles of navigable waterways in four different systems. Arkansas ranks third in the nation in terms of miles.
With the exception of the Red Rivers, each of the rivers within or adjacent to our state has ports where economic activity takes place. The Ouachita has public ports at Camden and Crossett. The White has a port located at Newport. The Red has no ports, but the commission is pursuing a feasibility study to determine if there is enough cost-benefit to begin construction to extend navigation from Shreveport-Bossier, La., to Index, Ark.
The Mississippi River is another story, as it forms the entire 320-mile eastern boundary of Arkansas. The Mississippi is the main corridor for goods produced in the northern part of the U.S., traveling to gateway ports near the Gulf of Mexico. Public ports in Arkansas on the Mississippi are located at Osceola, West Memphis, Helena-West Helena, and Yellow Bend.
Most of the economic activity is located on the Arkansas River, which begins at the confluence of the Mississippi, White and Arkansas rivers and then travels 445 miles northwest to the port of Catoosa near Tulsa, Okla. There are currently five public ports on the MKARNS -- three in Arkansas at Fort Smith, Little Rock and Pine Bluff, and two in Oklahoma at Tulsa and Muskogee. The Corps of Engineers constructed 18 locks and dams for the barges to pass through at a cost of $1.2 billion. And here is the good news and the primary reason for this column: this amount was paid for in only five years due to reduced shipping costs, and our nation has reaped the benefits ever since.
This commercial activity also provides 56,000 full- or part-time jobs, $289 million in business taxes, and $1.6 billion in annual transportation cost savings. One large barge of commodities at a 9-foot channel depth holds the equivalent of 15 jumbo railcars or 60 semi-trucks.
I loved Cassandra Caldwell's presentation, as it brought back very fond memories. I was active in the Little Rock Chamber of Commerce when this project began and was able to follow its progress. This is the reason I feel so honored to be able to tell this story. Thanks, Cassandra, for sharing. You made us all very proud.