Great Lakes Construction Materials Shipments Booming

A surge in U.S. construction has led to strong demand for construction materials through the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway since the start of the season in April.

St. Lawrence Seaway officials say the transport of dry bulk cargo is at nearly 3 million metric tons, up 7.5 percent through the first part of the season, April 2 through June 30. Leading the way are 102,000 metric tons of stone, a 24 percent increase. Cement products saw a healthy upswing to 563,000 metric tons, a 9.5 percent increase.

Materials have been heading to ports in Cleveland, Detroit, Milwaukee and Chicago as the U.S. construction market for residential and commercial projects rebounds. The Port of Green Bay in Wisconsin is seeing increased imports of cement that is being used for a major interstate project.

Port of Green Bay Director Dean Haen said, “The Port of Green Bay is currently experiencing a 75 percent increase in cement shipments from June 2014 to June 2015 and we anticipate this growth to continue throughout the season. This increase is related to the reconstruction of Interstate 41 and growth in home-building being experienced in Northeast Wisconsin.

Lower Lakes Towing, one of the largest carriers of construction cement and aggregates for the U.S. and Canada, has seen a rise in the demand for construction materials over the last two seasons, despite late starts due to ice conditions.

Capt. Scott Bravener, President of Lower Lakes Towing, said: “Although we had a later start to the season due to ice conditions, the demand for construction materials has been strong in the major markets we serve. The construction sector has been somewhat flat since 2008, but we saw a slight uptick in activity last year and have seen that grow even more so far this season. The rise in home-building in the U.S. has been a leading contributor to the increase.”

Across the board, however, total year-to-date (April 2 through June 30) cargo on the Seaway was 10.4 million metric tons, down 8.4 percent, with iron ore down almost 12 percent and coal shipments down 32 percent. Despite the numbers, officials say that it’s still too early in the season to predict an outcome and are optimistic the Seaway will see a boost.

Chamber of Marine Commerce President, Stephen Brooks said: “Despite difficulties clearing severe winter ice resulting in a late season start, shipping on the St. Lawrence Seaway remains a key driver for the U.S. and Canadian economies. We’re particularly optimistic that increased demands for construction, grain, steel, salt and other materials will keep Seaway traffic steady over the remainder of the year.”

Joe Cappel, vice president of business development for the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority said: “Through June, the 2015 shipping season appears to be on par with the 2014 season at the Port of Toledo. While iron ore receipts are down, increases in every other cargo category are offsetting the reduction. The good news is that we’ve already handled over 1.1 million tons of ore, which is still a nice accomplishment for this early in the season. The port terminals have been busy not just with maritime commerce but also with vessel maintenance and repair work, robust rail to truck trans-loading activity, and new roadway construction projects that are part of our ongoing modernization initiative.”

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