Have you ever had a dream of taking a boat trip from Boston to Brownsville, Texas, and never have to venture out into the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico? There is no way, you might say, but don’t be so sure. Most Hoosiers have probably never heard of the Intracostal Waterway. This allows a 3,000 mile trip along the coast without the dangers of the open ocean or gulf. It follows a series of rivers and channels inland but never far from saltwater.
Such an undertaking seems like an impossible dream, but due to hard work and lots of money it has become a reality. But why all this trouble to keep small boats out of the Atlantic and gulf? It started as a way to keep smaller boats out of the many hazards of saltwater travel and then became a part of our national security.
This vision of an inland waterway began in the early 1800s, but was not finished until many years later. Governmental control of ocean traffic was a sore point to many ocean shippers who said a variety of laws and rules were too hard to follow and cost so much time and money. Let’s take some of this shipping inland and away from governmental control was the hot topic of the day.
When World War I came along national security became very important. It became even more of a threat when World War II started with German submarines roaming along the U.S. east coast. The first plan for an inland waterway was presented to Congress by Treasury Secretary Albert Gallatin in the 1800s. Gallatin’s plan, which he said would benefit not only our country but also the international market, would cost around $20 million and be worth every cent of the cost.
As often happens Congress did not think so and turned down the plan. This was in the 1820s and it was not until the 1880s they finally decided we really did need an inland waterway. In 1882 Congress passed a bill to start work on such a project, but this time it was a president, Chester Arthur, who vetoed the bill. Congress was outraged and voted to override the veto and the bill became law. As usually happens a bill became law, but little was done to implement the plan and while some work started it took World War II and German submarines to really give a kick start to a real inland waterway.
Rivers along the coast were to be utilized where possible and canals w ere to be built in the sediment that had been left behind by ocean currents and storm waves. Some structures also had to be built to maintain a minimum depth of 12 feet to allow safe passage of the boats that would traverse this waterway. Sad to say no tolls to use the Intracoastal Waterway are charged and funding has been hit or miss over the years and in sections, due to sedimentation, the water level is less than 12 feet deep. However, most boats that use this unique waterway will have little trouble on a trip down its 3,000 miles.
Over the years whenever I have the opportunity to visit some segment of the Intracoastal I stand in amazement of how much work and money it took to construct a safe way to travel from Massachusetts to Texas on a waterway most people don’t even know exists. I also have to admit I have never been in a boat of this waterway.