Tennessee Waterways Assessment Study

Project Summary

The U.S. has one of the most extensive water transportation systems in the world, with 40 states having direct access to either a coastal deepwater port or a federally maintained, inland navigable waterway. With nearly 12,000 miles of inland waterways in the U.S., waterway transportation affects economic development and global trade.

Hanson assisted the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Nashville District to collect and deliver recommendations to support Tennessee ports and waterways. The project deliverable was a formal report.

With its central location on the inland river system, Tennessee’s rivers play an integral role in the nation’s freight system.  Tennessee is home to three major navigable arteries – the Cumberland, Mississippi, and Tennessee Rivers; four public riverports; and more than 170 private river terminals. The state ranks 11th out of 40 for most navigable waterways in the U.S.

In order to formulate functional initiatives for TDOT, Hanson investigated the roles and responsibilities of other state departments of transportation to learn more about how those states support water transportation and ports. Data collected from each state included:

  • the governmental body responsible for ports and waterways,
  • the organizational placement of the waterways individual or department within the governmental body,
  • the number of navigable waterway miles,
  • the most recent annual waterborne freight tonnage,
  • the number of public port facilities, and
  • the extent of involvement and assistance provided by these states for their ports and waterways.


This investigation provided a comparative analysis of possible roles for Tennessee.

Hanson then toured the facilities at each of the public ports in Tennessee.  Hanson’s team worked with the ports to identify short- and long-term capital needs to increase port potential in facilitating access to the state’s natural freight transportation system.

The project team held a series of collaborative stakeholder meetings across the state, explaining the project and its objectives and seeking stakeholder feedback on types of state-level assistance and/or programs that they desire.

During these sessions, stakeholders had the opportunity to describe and rank, in order of importance, the types of state assistance they envisioned as most beneficial.  The categories included organizational structure, financial assistance, technical assistance, marketing assistance, and policy considerations. 

After compiling the results, Hanson analyzed the stakeholder input in light of the team’s knowledge about other programs around the country.  The Hanson team worked with TDOT and the USACE to identify commonalities and arrive at practical recommendations that would be most beneficial to the waterway industry and the state.


In addition, Hanson provided information about how the waterways could affect the sale or success of the Tennessee Valley Authority Megasites and other similar economic development sites.

Show More