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The Upstate Economy

Midwest construction boom helps St. Lawrence Seaway rebound

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Chamber of Marine Commerce
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Freighters traveling across the St. Lawrence Seaway are transporting raw construction materials to cities in the Midwest.

People along the St. Lawrence River love to watch and take photos of the huge freighters that move through the water every season.  If you’ve been wondering what the ships are carrying this year, the answer is tons of rocks. 

By rocks, we’re talking about literal boatloads of sand and stone that’ll be used as road fill to expand interstates in Wisconsin.

Ships are also on their way to Cleveland, Detroit, Milwaukee and Chicago carrying cement and steel for big construction booms there.

Stephen Brooks, who heads the Chamber of Marine Commerce, says ships are transporting nearly three million metric tons more construction materials than at this time last year.

“It’s actually very good news especially given the difficulties that we had at the beginning of the season for the system to clear the ice after another harsh winter,” Brooks said.

Shipping on the St. Lawrence was pushed back a week because of heavy ice cover on the river. This was the second year shipping had to be postponed until April. 

Overall, ships haven’t been moving as much material as they did last year. That’s because less iron ore and coal are in demand. But this hasn’t left Brooks too worried.

“We believe that a lot of the other commodities will continue to provide lots of business for the Seaway for the remainder of the year. Especially salt, as municipalities stock up after a heavy winter from the last two seasons.”

Grain also remains strong. So far, 17% more grain is being moved across the Great Lakes Region this year. The Seaway is in the midst of a small comeback after several years of declining tonnage in the wake of the recession.