Louisiana ports are about to get smarter and more resilient, thanks to a grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce to develop a digital platform for analyzing conditions along the Mississippi River, officials said this week.
The Commerce Department’s Economic Development Agency awarded a $1.6 million grant to the non-profit Water Institute of the Gulf to develop a Lower Mississippi River SmartPort & Resilience Center. The federal award adds to $1.4 million in matching funding from the State of Louisana and other partners involved in the $3 million collaborative project, officials said.
The SmartPort will use a digital platform–essentially a ‘Waze app for the Mississippi,’ called the Real-Time Shoaling Forecast Tool–to gather data about river conditions and traffic flow from tugs, barges, and other vessels as they operate on the river, according to a spokesperson for the project. Analysis of the data will allow local ports to improve efficiency and become more resilient in the face of natural disasters and economic shocks. The system will also pull in available road traffic and weather information, giving the digital platform a broad approach to port management, officials said.
The investment will also include a new SmartPort facility to be housed on The Water Campus—a center dedicated to the study of coastal restoration and sustainability—in Baton Rouge, which will serve as a specialized emergency operation center for ports, officials also said.
“With the SmartPort initiative, Louisiana is taking a major leading role in bringing technological efficiencies to maritime commerce,” Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards said in a statement released Wednesday. “Louisianans are keenly aware of the vital role the Mississippi River plays in our history, our economic successes, and our future. This grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration is an affirmation that they, too, understand the role that safe, efficient river-based transportation plays in the broader U.S. economy. With the support of ports along the river, the SmartPort program will help us set a new standard for safety and emergency management.”
The project will create customized “resilience dashboards” for the Ports of Lake Providence, Madison, Vidalia, Baton Rouge, South Louisiana, New Orleans, St. Bernard, and Plaquemines.
Both the digital platform and SmartPort facility are set to go online in early 2023.