While often seen as an economic lifeline of another era, New York's canals are poised to have a big year for moving freight; almost two centuries after goods were first transported on the upstate New York waterway.
As the state's network of canals opens this week for its 189th official season, commercial traffic along the waterways is expected to be at a two-decade high.
The Canal Corporation, the agency that oversees the 524 miles of canals, expects more than 100,000 tons of freight to move through upstate by way of the Erie Canal and its other canals.
"A lot of customers are coming to depend upon the canal," says Brian Stratton, Director of Canals for the Canal Corp.
The reason for the jump in commercial traffic has to do with deregulation of the Canadian grain industry, according to Stratton. That's opening up more shipping options.
"We have a number of commercial haulers on the canal that are anxious to meet the demand for that transportation," Stratton says. "And so this is opening up an opportunity for Canadian grain shippers and others to do something that they might of not otherwise considered."
One of the major entry points for Canadian goods to New York's canals is the Port of Oswego, at the end of the Oswego Canal, on Lake Ontario. Port director Jonathan Daniels says any increase in shipping traffic is likely to boost the port's business.
"The more vessels that we can get clearing into this area, the more capacity we have, the more willing people are going to be in the future to look at Oswego Harbor, the port, and the facilities around us as a viable shipping option," Daniels says.
The Port of Oswego handles 80-120 vessels a year, Daniels says, and revenues have been increasing the past few years. The port offloads grains, metals and other products from Canada.
The Canal Corp. will be forced to deal with the boost of traffic this season with a smaller staff. The corporation is under the state's Thruway Authority, which made cuts to its budget earlier this year. Forty-two canal workers, or 8 percent of the corporation's workforce, were laid off.