NY canals open for 190th year, slight growth in commercial traffic

Russ Nelson/via Flickr
May 9, 2014

New York’s system of canal waterways is open for its 190th consecutive year and the canal corporation is hoping to build on a revival in commercial shipping.

The 500-plus miles of canals that cut through upstate New York mostly carry recreational boats and tourists to the towns along them. The Canal Corp estimates that creates more than $300 million in economic benefit.

But last year the waterways saw the amount of commercial traffic floating down the Erie Canal double to nearly 100,000 tons, extols Canal Corp director Brian Stratton.

"We still believe it’s a very viable and outstanding system," says Stratton. "It’s never gotten up to its full capacity. It has the capacity to move 10 million tons a year."

The canals officially opened for the season Wednesday. Now lined with biking trails and marinas, the canals will likely remain dominated by recreational use.

At nearly 200 years old, the canals and their locks need significant maintenance. Recent storms and floods have required millions in repairs. Still, Stratton says the benefit of the canals is about bringing dollars to communities along them, not making money.