Office of Systems Planning


Iowa’s waterway system plays a key role in moving grain and bulk commodities to and from Iowa. This system provides Iowans a gateway to an extensive inland-waterway network that has access to international ports. While the Iowa DOT does not directly invest in this system, the department does have an advisory role with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and with representation on the Upper Mississippi River Basin Association and the Missouri River Association of States and Tribes.

Water transport fills an important role in freight movement as it has the ability to carry the most weight while offering the lowest shipping cost per ton of commodity. Although they rely on truck and rail to deliver goods, private barge terminals on the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers are a key part of grain and commodity movement for products moving into and out of Iowa.

Highlights of Iowa’s waterway system

  • Iowa is the only state in the nation bordered by two navigable rivers, the Mississippi and Missouri.
  • All but one of the main locks located along Iowa’s Mississippi River border have a 110-foot by 600-foot chamber. A 15-barge tow must double-lock, which takes about 90 minutes.
  • The 1200-foot lock at Keokuk can accommodate an entire barge tow, which significantly reduces the locking time,
  • Keokuk is the northernmost port on the Mississippi River that is open to barge traffic throughout the winter.
  • One barge carries the equivalent of 13.4 jumbo train hopper cars or 58 large semi-trucks.
  • Water transport is more energy-efficient than both rail and truck movements.

Additional Waterway Information

2017/2018 Lock and Dam Study - Stakeholder Summit