Ports & Terminals

Illinois Ports Get Burst Of  State Funding

The Mid-America Intermodal Authority Port District of Quincy, Ill., will be the beneficiary of a $13.2 million grant from the state of Illinois’ Port Facilities Capital Grant Program, with $600,000 coming from local matching funds. The grant was one of three announced January 28, worth about $40 million. That represents an unprecedented burst of funding for ports and waterways in Illinois.

The Mid-America Intermodal Authority Port District is located in western Illinois and is the largest in area of Illinois’ 19 port districts; it includes 11 counties that border the Mississippi and Illinois rivers. The port district is part of the three-state Mid-America Port Commission that includes 26 counties in Illinois, Iowa and Missouri. The commission has worked with the Corps of Engineers to identify potential new ports and has identified the Quincy site as the first to develop.

The district’s plan is to acquire a plot of land adjacent to the existing Quincy municipal dock to develop direct barge-to-rail capabilities. Right now, the municipal dock can only transload between barges and trucks. The money will also help raise the municipal barge dock to prevent closure from flooding, something for which port officials have been lobbying for years. 

Barge Dock To Be Raised

According to Chuck Bevelheimer, director of planning at the city of Quincy, rising Mississippi River waters have halted barge operation five times over the past 10 years. Once the dock height is raised, barge loading operations could continue right up until the point where locks and dams would have to be closed. Bevelheimer said barge-to-rail access would be “a huge asset for us.” Work should begin this year. 

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The grant from the state was the culmination of years of behind-the-scenes work by port promoters in the state. Among those is Charles Bell, executive director of the Mid-America Intermodal Authority Port District, who estimates he has spent about 15 years promoting the port district. He was invited to become executive director of the MAIAPD in 2012.

With other Illinois port directors, Bell helped Illinois ports organize themselves into the Illinois Ports Association and create relationships with Illinois governors and legislators. The ports’ efforts paid off in 2019, when port improvements received their own line item in the Illinois state budget for the first time in the state’s history.  

It was right around that time, Bell said, that the Illinois Department of Transportation designated a port and waterways person. “The state administration is supporting a waterways plan as part of an overall transportation plan,” Bell said. “It’s the first time, really, that the state has recognized waterways as an important part of the state’s transportation system.” 

Bell said former Secretary of Transportation Ann Schneider first promoted the importance of the Illinois ports to the Illinois freight transportation system. “A lot of people deserve to share the credit in keeping this effort moving,” he told The Waterways Journal. 

Quincy Grant Is One of Three

The Quincy grant was one of three to Illinois port districts made at the same time. The Upper Mississippi River International Port District, a smaller port district located at the northwest corner of the state on the east bank of the Mississippi River, was awarded $7 million for land acquisition, remediation and utilities at the port of Savanna, Ill.

On the Illinois River, the Ottawa, Ill., Port District Intermodal Rail Yard was awarded $9,770,750. The port of Ottawa is southwest of Joliet and just west of Marseilles Lock and Dam, one of five Illinois River locks and dams that got major upgrades and repairs during a three-month closure from July through October 2020. The Corps of Engineers is planning a longer shutdown in 2023.

The funding comes after significant federal investments in repairs of crucial locks and dams on the Illinois River with more work to come, and the funding to completion of Lock and Dam 25 on the Mississippi River in the recently passed bipartisan infrastructure bill. 

Last July, the port of Dubuque, Iowa, located just upriver from the Illinois border, announced it had received a $5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s INFRA program for improvements at the Gavilon site on its river front. 

Bob Sinkler, a former chief of the Rock Island Engineer District and a consultant who has promoted ports in the region, said the investments were “exciting” and added, “There’s some great momentum going on right now.”

“This is a good time for the inland waterways to blow their own horn,” Bell said.