Our Goal

Building on objectives in the Regional Maritime Strategy, the Blue Accounting maritime transportation work group has established the following high-level goals for the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Maritime Transportation System:

  • Increase maritime traffic and trade
  • Increase the system’s efficiency and performance
  • Continue improving the environmental performance of the system


In June 2016, the Conference of Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Governors and Premiers released their Strategy for the Great Lakes- St. Lawrence River Maritime Transportation System, which established shared priorities and recommended policies, programs and projects to invigorate the regional maritime transportation system. The strategy’s objectives are to double maritime trade, shrink the system’s environmental impact, and support the region’s industrial core. Building on the strategy, Blue Accounting has established metrics and collected data to track progress toward achieving key goals for the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River maritime transportation system (MTS). This is complemented with a comprehensive summary of key maritime transportation strategies and investments to help elected officials, industry leaders and others understand how we are managing and investing in our regional maritime transportation system.

Maritime Transportation: Why it matters

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, and 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 It 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

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

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

Measuring Progess

In order to measure progress toward achieving the three shared goals, the Blue Accounting maritime workgroup has also identified metrics for each goal. Over time, these metrics will be used to paint a big picture view of the progress of strategies and investments toward the shared goals. The metrics may also be adapted as the work evolves in order to best tell the story of progress being made to grow the maritime transportation system.

Metrics by Goal:

  • Cargo Tonnage
  • Cargo Value
  • Container Cargo Volume
  • Growth in Cruise Tourism
  • Reliability of navigation locks
  • Participation in the Green Marine Environmental Performance Certification Program

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. Blue Accounting collected and synthesized data from a variety of U.S. and Canadian agencies and organizations representing the maritime industry, developed options for presenting the data, and organized this on the Blue Accounting information hub. This is complemented by a comprehensive summary of strategies and investments for maintaining and growing the maritime transportation system. A curated suite of resources is included 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-St. Lawrence River Maritime Transportation System

Where We Work

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.

Source: Great Lakes Commission

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.

Source: MarineTraffic.com

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