Moving Grain: Largest Bridge Investment Program Since 1956

    Towboat and barge on the Mississippi Ridge near the Helena, Arkansas bridge. Photo: Robert Goodson, U of Arkansas

    FHWA Launches Largest Bridge Investment Program Since 1956

    On January 14, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), launched its Bridge Formula Program (BFP)—the single largest program dedicated to bridge investment since the Interstate Highway System was established in 1956.

    BFP will provide $26.5 billion to States, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico over 5 years (including $5.3 billion in fiscal year 2022). The program aims to replace, rehabilitate, preserve, protect, and construct the Nation’s bridges. Annually, each State will receive no less than $45 million—15 percent of which will be set aside for “off-system bridges.”

    Off-system bridges (i.e., not part of the highway system) are owned by a county, city, town, or other local agency. As authorized under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, BFP would allow States to use 100-percent Federal funding to repair or rehabilitate off-system bridges. FHWA encourages States to prioritize projects that would replace bridges classified in “poor” condition and rehabilitate or repair bridges classified in “fair” condition.

    States are also encouraged to use the funding to address highway-bridge challenges that “impede the mobility of goods (e.g., freight).”

    Recent Service Issues Contribute to High Prices in Secondary Railcar Market

    Bids for shuttle service in the secondary railcar market have been high recently. They peaked at $3,100 per car for BNSF Railway (BNSF) and $2,400 for Union Pacific Railroad (UP) for the week ending January 6. For the week ending January 20 (the latest week of data), bids for service in February averaged $1,258 across BNSF and UP.

    Grain News on AgFax

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    Both railroads have reported poor service metrics to the Surface Transportation Board in recent weeks (also available on USDA’s Agricultural Transportation Open Data Platform). For the week ending January 19, when averaged across the two railroads, grain train speeds were down 4 percent from the prior-3-year average for the same week.

    Similarly, compared to the prior-3-year average for the same week, the railroads’ grain train origin dwell times were up 151 percent, while their reported number of unfilled grain car orders included 1,383 more cars, an increase of 414 percent.

    In its January 21 Network Update, BNSF reported some improvements to its service, but still faces challenging operating environments in its North Region, spanning the Upper Midwest to the Pacific Northwest (PNW). According to BNSF, a mix of extreme weather—including Arctic temperatures and heavy snow and rain in PNW—has required shorter trains and resulted in multiple outages in the region.

    Three Midwestern States Waive HOS Regulations for Transporting Fuel and Propane

    In response to winter weather conditions, Iowa, North Dakota, and Minnesota have declared emergencies and waived hours-of-service (HOS) regulations related to petroleum and propane products.

    In the affected States, drivers are experiencing long wait times at terminals and difficult driving conditions, such as ice and snow. The HOS waiver for drivers of commercial motor vehicles is intended to ensure adequate supplies of propane and petroleum products—necessary for continuing to process and dry harvested crops.

    In effect for 30 days from their issuance, the executive orders were issued by North Dakota, Iowa and Minnesota on January 4th, 6th, and 7th respectively.

    Snapshots by Sector

    Export Sales

    For the week ending January 13, unshipped balances of wheat, corn, and soybeans for marketing year 2021/22 totaled 40.1 million metric tons (mmt), down 19 percent from the same time last year, and down 3 percent from the previous week.

    Net corn export sales were 1.091 mmt, up significantly from the previous week. Net soybean export sales were 0.671 mmt, down 9 percent from the previous week. Net weekly wheat export sales were 0.381 mmt, up 44 percent from the previous week.


    U.S. Class I railroads originated 24,344 grain carloads during the week ending January 15. This was a 11-percent increase from the previous week, 12 percent fewer than last year, and 2 percent more than the 3-year average.

    Average February shuttle secondary railcar bids/offers (per car) were $1,258 above tariff for the week ending January 20. This was $83 less than last week and $871 more than this week last year. There were no non-shuttle bids/offers this week.


    For the week ending January 22, barged grain movements totaled 775,228 tons. This was 58 percent higher than the previous week and 30 percent less than the same period last year.

    For the week ending January 22, 462 grain barges moved down river—165 more barges than the previous week. There were 818 grain barges unloaded in the New Orleans region, 1 percent lower than last week.


    For the week ending January 20, 38 oceangoing grain vessels were loaded in the Gulf—down 19 percent from the same period last year. Within the next 10 days (starting January 21), 56 vessels were expected to be loaded—4 percent more than the same period last year.

    As of January 20, the rate for shipping a metric ton (mt) of grain from the U.S. Gulf to Japan was $64.50. This was 6 percent less than the previous week. The rate from the Pacific Northwest to Japan was $35.00 per mt, 7 percent less than the previous week.


    For the week ending January 24, the U.S. average diesel fuel price increased 5.5 cents from the previous week to $3.78 per gallon, 106.4 cents above the same week last year. At $3.656 per gallon, the average Midwest diesel price increased 17.9 cents in the past 3 weeks.

    Full report.

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