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Port of New Orleans

New Orleans is the largest port in the United States and the third largest in the world. It is an extremely busy shipping terminal that handles vessels with drafts to 40 ft as well as a multitude of smaller vessels engaged in a variety of marine transportation and service activities. River barge traffic is particularly evident as New Orleans is the southern terminus of the Mississippi River navigation system.

The Port of New Orleans has more than 180 piers and wharves located on both sides of the Mississippi River, the Inner Harbor Navigation Canal, and the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet Canal. In addition, over 100 additional facilities for small vessels and barges are located on adjacent waterways. Approximately one-half of the deep-draft facilities are for public use and operated by the Board of Commissioners of the Port of New Orleans. Alongside depths on the Mississippi River facilities generally equal or exceed 30 ft. and deck heights average 22 ft. Some alongside depths and deck heights are less. The primary reason for the unusually high deck heights is the variation in water levels of the river. At New Orleans the extreme difference between high and low stages of the river is 20 ft with the mean difference near 14 ft. The average dates of high-river stage and low-river stage occur in April and October respectively. Zero on the Carrollton river gage (near mile 103) is Mean Sea Level.

Alongside depths and deck heights for facilities on the Inner Harbor Navigation Canal, the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet Canal, and adjacent waterways have little uniformity. Complete details of berthing facilities at the Port of New Orleans are to be found in Port Series No. 20 published in 1981 by the US Army Corps of Engineers. The publication also provides details of 55 diesel-operated tugs, ranging from 750 to 4,000 horsepower, used for docking and undocking vessels on the Mississippi River.

The Port of New Orleans is located on both banks of the Mississippi River in the southeast section of Louisiana. The lower and upper limits of the Port are approximately 81 and 115 miles above Head of Passes, a common reference point on the Mississippi River which is located at the junction of Southwest Pass and South Pass, the two main channels leading to the Mississippi River. Head of Passes is 20 miles above the seaward entrance to Southwest Pass. The banks of the Mississippi River comprise the highest terrain in the area, with much of the developed land area along the river actually being below sea level. An elaborate levee system has been constructed by the US Army Corps of Engineers to protect low lying areas from flooding.

The Port of New Orleans can be reached from the Gulf of Mexico by two main routes. The first, and primary, route is via the Mississippi River, which may be accessed by ships using Southwest Pass or South Pass. A Federal project provides for a 40-ft channel over the bar and through Southwest Pass, and a 17-ft channel over the bar and through South Pass, to Head of Passes. The project further provides for a 40-ft channel from Head of Passes to New Orleans. A second route to the Port of New Orleans is via the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet Canal, a 66-mile channel that extends northwest from deep water in the Gulf of Mexico to the Inner Harbor Navigation Canal at New Orleans. The Federal project provides for channel depths ranging from 36 to 38 ft. Final access to the Mississippi River is via a 640-ft lock at New Orleans. Sill depth at the lock is 31.5 ft at low water.

There are no bridges or cables across the Mississippi River below New Orleans, but two bridges cross the river at New Orleans. A high level fixed highway bridge connecting Algiers and New Orleans, 0.6 mile above Canal Street, has a clearance of 150 ft over a central 750-ft width. The Huey P. Long Bridge, a combined highway and railroad bridge crossing the river 9.6 miles above Canal Street, has a clearance of 135 ft for a channel span width of 500 ft. One bridge and two cables cross the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet Canal below the junction with the Inner Harbor Navigation Canal at New Orleans. The Paris Road Bridge, a fixed bridge with a clearance of 135 ft. is located about 4.3 miles east of the junction with the Inner Harbor Navigation Canal. The overhead power cables across the canal near the Paris Road Bridge have a clearance of 170 ft.

The existing Industrial Canal Lock is a vital link in the nation's inland waterway navigation system. It connects the Mississippi River, the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway (GIWW), the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet (MRGO), the Industrial Canal (also known as the Inner Harbor Navigation Canal), and Lake Pontchartrain. View an area map (24 kb, gif format). The Port of New Orleans completed the existing lock in 1921. Now a historic engineering landmark, it has served its purpose well for many decades.

Growth in waterway traffic over the years has made the Industrial Canal Lock one of the nation's most congested locks with an average wait of 10 hours, but often as much as 24-36 hours. The basic problem is that the current lock is simply too small to accommodate the volume of existing and future traffic. The lock is 75 feet wide by 640 feet long and 31.5 feet deep. The replacement lock will be 110 feet wide by 1200 feet long and 36 feet deep. The new lock will provide continued deep-draft access to the Industrial Canal and an almost three-fold increase in lock chamber capacity.

Replacement of the lock was originally authorized in the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1956, but many years of planning and community involvement were required before Congress authorized construction in 1998. Planning for the new lock has been very controversial with earlier design alternatives involving significant loss of wetlands in St. Bernard Parish or major disruptions to the densely urbanized areas adjoining the existing lock in New Orleans. A product of community input and innovative design, the authorized project provides for construction of the new lock without residential relocations and with minimal disruption to navigation traffic in the canal and vehicular traffic on bridge crossings over the canal.

Although the project has been designed to minimize disruptions, the magnitude and duration (approximately 12 years of project construction) will impact adjoining urban areas including two historic districts. In order to address these impacts, Congress specifically authorized a $37 million Community Impact Mitigation Plan in the Water Resources Development Act of 1996. Mitigation will address job training, improved police protection, upgrading existing playgrounds and many other improvements. The Mitigation Plan is considered an innovative and integral feature of the project and it is being implemented as construction gets underway. In fact, for its mitigation work, the American Planning Association honored the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and its contractor, gcr & associates, inc. with a national planning award, "Outstanding Non-Military Federal Planning Project" of 2001.

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