The “Triple Bottom Line” in Michigan’s coastal communities - Element 8: Mixed transportation

Environmentally sound transportation options that allow for movement of people and goods within, between and beyond coastal communities have the potential to improve the quality of life for residents and visitors, and sustain local and regional economies.

Michigan utilizes the Great Lakes and connected inland water bodies for local and regional transportation of people and goods. Ferry systems, ports, public and private marinas, boat ramps, and harbors of refuge all provide opportunities for people and product to move either in day-to-day activities—like shipping or commuting to work—or to support recreation and tourism by allowing people to travel to areas by water and access local amenities in coastal and shoreline communities. These diverse methods of water-based transportation, when combined with land-based networks, allow commerce to flow and provide recreational and tourism access to areas that might otherwise be inaccessible.

In Michigan, ferry systems can vary between small ones—like the Hardsens Island Ferry that takes minutes to cross a small, otherwise inaccessible island—to large ones that save driving time by cutting across Lake Michigan into Wisconsin instead of driving around the lake. A complete list of ferries operated in Michigan can be found on Michigan Department of Transportation’s website

There are economic and environmental benefits to water-based transportation, as well.  According to the U.S. Department of Transportation Maritime Administration, vessel-based transportation of goods can provide a cost savings due to the lower amount of fuel needed to ship on the Marine Highway System compared to other methods of land-based shipping like trucks or rail. The reduced amount of fuel required for transport results in reduced air emissions per unit of goods shipped. Additionally, utilizing water-based transport can reduce traffic congestion on public roads and highways and can create a resilient transportation system when used in conjunction with multiple forms of transport.

Numerous public and private marinas, as well as ports of refuge maintained by the State of Michigan support private boat travel on the Great Lakes around Michigan. These access points not only allow people to get onto the water, but private marinas may provide services to visiting boaters, and public marinas may act as transient moorage for people who want to travel by boat to a coastal community and participate in local events.

Michigan State University Extension and Michigan Sea Grant are actively involved in projects that seek to protect the environment, improve the quality of life, and promote economic activity in Michigan’s coastal areas.  This article was adapted from:  Smart Growth for Coastal and Waterfront Communities, a report created by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the International City/County Management Association, and Rhode Island Sea Grant.  The document can be accessed at:

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