Investments Continue, Keep St. Louis Port System On Top
Infrastructure improvements being made at the St. Louis region’s public ports—which, collectively, cemented its place as the most efficient port system, according to Corps of Engineers figures—complement the $440 million investment underway to replace the nationally significant Merchants Rail Bridge and the I-270 Bridge, both spanning the Mississippi River.
From new rail spurs and warehouses to terminal expansions and new riverbank landings, the four public ports in the St. Louis region—the Port of St. Louis, America’s Central Port, the Kaskaskia Regional Port District and the Jefferson County Port Authority—are collectively investing almost $20 million in their facilities, making them more attractive to site selectors seeking property with access to the inland waterways, six Class 1 railroads with low rail congestion and four interstates that offer quick truck turnaround. The completed projects will help to ensure the St. Louis region continues to deliver competitive and reliable freight movements for the global supply chain.
“Centrally located in the heart of the United States with close proximity to America’s agricultural heartland, major Midwest populations and manufacturing centers, and featuring the northernmost ice-free/lock-free access on the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico, the St. Louis region’s ports play a critical role in the nation’s freight network,” said Mary Lamie, executive director of the St. Louis Regional Freightway.
“These investments and the resulting efficiencies mean shippers moving commodities through the St. Louis region will continue to benefit from lower distribution and logistics expenses and shorter travel times.”
Top Port Ranking
The latest data from the Army Corps of Engineers reveals that the St. Louis regional ports held onto the top ranking as the most efficient inland port district in the nation in terms of tons moved per river mile during 2017, the most recent year for which final numbers are available.
The St. Louis region’s barge industry handled 472,400 tons per mile. That was 1.6 times the efficiency of the Port of Pittsburgh, Pa., which ranked No. 2 with 286,000 tons per mile.
The port of Huntington-Tristate, West Virginia, ranked a distant No. 3, moving just 95,930 tons per river mile.
Adding to the impressive showing for the St. Louis region’s ports is the number of port facilities/river terminals within the system. The 70-mile long St. Louis regional port system has the second highest concentration of port facilities per mile of all inland ports, with a port-facility-per-mile ratio of 2.36, falling just a little below Pittsburgh’s 3.14.
However, within the 15-mile stretch of St. Louis’ port system known as the Ag Coast of America, the port facility per mile ratio soars to 5.13, far higher than all other inland ports.
Those efficiencies translate into an increasingly higher share of all freight tonnage along the section of the Mississippi River from Minneapolis, Minn., to the Ohio River near Cairo, Ill., being captured by the St. Louis region’s ports and river terminals.
According to the Corps, the 70-mile St. Louis regional port system represents only 8 percent of this 855-mile section of the river, yet it carried 39 percent of the 2016 freight.
The St. Louis region is among the top five of all U.S. ports for job growth in industrial employment, which includes transportation, wholesale and manufacturing employment. That growth is being driven in part by the ongoing investment in the region’s ports and river terminals. Both public and private investment is underway or starting soon with all four of the region’s public ports advancing projects that will improve the bottom line for shippers and carriers.
American Milling is building a new barge loading facility in Cahokia, Ill., that will include two barge docks. Each dock will be served by a 60-inch conveyor belt, adding further capacity in this busy stretch of the river. Construction should be completed this summer.
Italgrani owns a 4-million-bushel grain elevator just south of downtown St. Louis, and built a wheat mill next door in the late 1980s. Its latest expansion has grown to $55 million, as it has added a second mill and more storage and grown its local workforce to 65 employees. While Italgrani remains fully capable of handling barge traffic, its recent growth has been on the grain milling side of the business, where the majority of the product moves in and out by rail in food grade rail cars, while some is trucked. About 25 percent of its product moves via a pipeline linking the mill to a pasta company client across the street. This spring, Italgrani will finish up a new bagging facility that will give it the capability to move bags in boxcars by rail, too, as it takes full advantage of the region’s multimodal offerings.
“There is a tremendous amount of infrastructure and support in the St. Louis region,” said Jim Meyer, president of Italgrani. “The Ag Coast of America name is very much apropos. We’re very aware of others—Cargill, Bunge and more—moving significant quantities. The amount of commerce being done is incredible.”
Infrastructure Investment Needed
For the St. Louis region to continue to maintain its large share of the current freight traffic and capture an even greater portion going forward, the investments by the ports and private industry will need to be augmented by additional infrastructure spending. U.S. Department of Agriculture reports suggest that, without improvements in U.S. infrastructure from the farm to ports, global agricultural market shares will decline dramatically.
“Investment in infrastructure, including improving at-grade rail crossings and increasing efficiency of freight rail interconnectivity with the region’s Class I railroads, is key to supporting the barge industry and critical for maintaining global competitiveness,” said Lamie.
“Fortunately, public and private funding is already advancing some of the region’s highest priority projects, and the St. Louis Regional Freightway is committed to working with its many partners to advocate for additional funding for others unanimously recognized as vital to modernize the region’s freight infrastructure.”
Here’s a look at specific investments being made within each of the individual ports:
The Port of St. Louis Municipal River Terminal is in the midst of a $1.15 million project to replace a rail spur linking to the Terminal Railroad Association of St. Louis (TRRA) and all Class I Railroads. The St. Louis Port District’s Municipal River Terminal is the only public general-purpose dock in the region on the west side of the Mississippi River. “The improvements to the rail spur will benefit terminal operator SCF Lewis & Clark Terminals and the various shippers they transload goods for at the multimodal facility,” said Port Authority Director Susan Taylor of the St. Louis Development Corporation.
Jefferson County Port Authority—The historic Delta Queen steamboat is expected to make its inaugural cruise from Kimmswick, Mo., in 2020, and in preparation, the Jefferson County Port Authority is proceeding with design and construction of a riverboat bank landing in Kimmswick. The landing is being designed to accommodate any river cruise boat, including passenger excursion vessels as large as the American Queen. The landing will initially consist of an at-grade concrete pad along the shoreline of the Mississippi River, two deadman structures for vessel tie-off, and a potable water supply. The budgeted amount specifically for the Kimmswick bank landing is $1.2 million, made possible by a Missouri Department of Transportation Waterways grant, and a 20 percent matching grant from Jefferson County. Construction is anticipated to begin late this summer.
The Kimmswick landing project is part of a five-year plan that calls for an amphitheater, expanded parking, a boardwalk and an overlook on the banks of the Mississippi, as well as kayak rentals and fishing in the natural habitat of the adjoining slough. An at-grade railroad crossing at Market St. and Front St. is also included.
“Building on the long-term vision made possible by the Great Streets grant initiative awarded to the Jefferson County Port Authority by East West Gateway Council of Governments, we are moving forward with our community partners Jefferson County and the City of Kimmswick to return this historic river town back towards its beginnings as a riverboat destination,” said Neal Breitweiser, executive director, Jefferson County Port Authority.
The Jefferson County Port also is the proposed site for a terminal to support innovative container-on-vessel service to the Midwest; but those plans are still in the early stages.
Several projects of note are underway at the various facilities in the Kaskaskia Regional Port District (KRPD), whose constituent river ports are located on the Kaskaskia River in southern Illinois in Monroe County, Randolph County and a portion of St. Clair County. The port district has submitted an INFRA grant for $9.25 million to expand the terminal at KRPD #1. This capital improvement will consist of a second loop track, a dump pit, two outbound conveyors, siding and other track upgrades. The expansion will allow the port to ship fly ash and gypsum outbound. A Delta Regional Authority Grant for $140,000 has been awarded to replace the Port District Railroad crossing on Ill. Rt. 154 at its KRPD #2 terminal.
The KRPD also has entered into an agreement with the Illinois Department of Transportation to develop a Master Plan for KRPD #2, where tenant Kaskaskia Shipyard just completed building its third towboat as it grows its operations. This master plan is designed to reduce congestion at the port and calls for a third dock to be built on eight additional acres the port purchased two years ago. “The plan should be completed in a year and will serve as a blueprint for capital improvements over the next two decades,” said Ed Weilbacher, KRPD general manager.
Upcoming improvements to America’s Central Port in Granite City, Ill. are described in another article in this issue.