The Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River form the longest deep-draft inland navigation system in the world, stretching 2,300 miles into the North American heartland.

  • It links more than 100 U.S. and Canadian ports to the world economy
  • moves approximately 200 million tons of cargo annually
  • generates more than 325,000 jobs and $45 billion in business revenue
  • supports industries such as manufacturing, steel production, agriculture and power generation.

The system is vital for the U.S. and Canadian national economies as well, with nearly all of the iron ore needed for U.S. steel production passing through the Soo Locks, which connect Lake Superior to the other four Great Lakes. The binational Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River region is home to a $6 trillion economy and nearly one-third of U.S. and Canadian economic activity. The maritime transportation system is a vital component of our region’s economic infrastructure and maintaining and strengthening it is a priority for regional leaders.

Why Maritime Transportation Matters

Great Lakes System Boundary

Great Lakes Basin Map

The Great Lakes St. Lawrence River maritime transportation system includes the Great Lakes, its connecting channels and the St. Lawrence River upstream from Les Escoumins, Quebec. This is a boundary established in federal regulation. The system encompasses the region’s maritime assets that are most closely interconnected with one another. 

 © Great Lakes Commission

Aerial image of the Soo Locks

<div class="text-formatted field field--name-field-media-tooltip field--type-text-long field--label-hidden field__item"><p>Soo Locks and International Bridge</p><p>Public Domain/USACE</p></div>

Nearly all of the iron ore used in U.S. steel production must pass through the Soo Locks, which connect Lake Superior to the other four Great Lakes. Vessels pass through the locks approximately 10,000 times each year.

Source: USACE

Photo of ship

Jennies on dock

On average, shipping is 14% more fuel efficient than rail, nearly 600% more fuel efficient than trucking, and saves consumers $3.6 billion over other transportation modes. The largest Great Lakes ships can carry as much cargo as 700 rail cars or 2,800 trucks, reducing congestion on railroads and highways.·

Source: Research and Traffic Group, 2013

How We Work

Blue Accounting is working with a binational team of maritime leaders to collect and present data and information to gauge progress toward key goals for the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River maritime transportation system. We do this by:

  • synthesizing and presenting data from a variety of U.S. and Canadian agencies and organizations representing the maritime industry

  • showcasing the strategies and investments for maintaining and growing the maritime transportation system

  • providing a curated suite of resources to provide access to key reports, studies and related information.

An additional suite of metrics was identified to be developed in the next phase of the project.



Components of the Great Lakes..

Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Ports

Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Ports

Commercial shipping serves more than 100 individual ports in the eight Great Lakes states and the provinces of Ontario and Québec. These ports range in size and configuration. The simplest ports feature a single dock where ships tie-up to load or unload cargo for a single facility. Other ports are complex with multiple docks serving a variety of industries. In each case, a port serves as an interface between land-based modes of transportation (highway and rail) and waterborne transportation. View the maritime asset inventory.

Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Maritime Traffic

Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Maritime Traffic

This map shows the common routes vessels use to travel through the Maritime Transportation System (MTS), with areas in yellow and red indicating a higher density of vessel traffic. This map also illustrates the importance of select lock and channel infrastructure in moving vessels through the system.  For example, all vessels traveling to and from Lake Superior must pass through the Soo Locks, all vessels traveling between Lake Ontario and Lake Erie must pass through the Welland Canal, and vessels traveling to and from the rest of the St. Lawrence River must pass through locks between Lake Ontario and Montreal.  These infrastructure elements are critical for trade in MTS states.


Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Infrastructure

Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Infrastructure

The St. Lawrence Seaway includes the Welland Canal, which cuts across the Niagara Peninsula connecting lakes Ontario and Erie, with eight locks that lift ships 326 feet bypassing Niagara Falls; and the Montreal-Lake Ontario section that enables navigation along this route, with seven navigation locks that lift ships 243 feet.

Source: St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation, the Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation