Ports & Terminals

Port Interconnectivity Session Opens FreightWeek In St. Louis

The annual FreightWeek STL event in St. Louis included a May 14 session on the interconnectivity of ports on the inland river system, featuring the directors of the ports of New Orleans; Kansas City, Mo.; and America’s Central Port in Granite City, Ill. FreightWeek STL extended this year from May 13 to 17 and included a number of virtual online panel discussions as well as an in-person luncheon and tailgate event.

The May 14 session, titled “Collaboration and Investment Produce Cargo Growth,” was moderated by Mary Lamie, executive vice president of Multimodal Enterprises for Bi-State Development and executive director of St. Louis Regional Freightway, which hosts FreightWeek.

Gateway To Midwest

Brandy Christian, CEO of Port NOLA, noted that her port had the largest footprint of Louisiana’s 32 port districts, managing 2,500 acres of industrial real estate as well as a short-line railway. Port NOLA recently set a record for movements by container-on-barge (COB) to Baton Rouge, St. Louis and Memphis, Christian said. “Ocean carriers are beginning to pay real attention to this alternative,” she said.

She touted a $226 million INFRA (Infrastructure for Rebuilding America) grant the port recently received, which together with a $73.7 million MEGA grant (National Infrastructure Project Assistance) comprise the largest-ever federal grants for a container terminal. The terminal, to be located in Violet, La., is expected to cost $1.8 billion—which is already raised—and to be open by 2028. The grants show a clear recognition by the federal government of New Orleans’ importance as a national cargo gateway, Christian said. In addition, 90 percent of the port’s break-bulk cargoes go straight to barges for upriver movement, she said.

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Increasing Flexibility At America’s Central Port

Dennis Wilmsmeyer, executive director of America’s Central Port, said that in addition to handling 3 million tons of product by barge each year, his port also manages 2 million square feet of warehouse space and 200 apartments. The port’s operations were once handled by Inland River Transport Holdings LLC (SCF Marine Inc.), which has been bought by Ingram, and Wilmsmeyer said the port hopes to have Ingram return as port operator for COB operations.

“We continue to put a lot of investment into roadways and the two inner harbors,” he said.

One of the harbors is above Locks and Dam 27 and one below. “That’s a key lock; there’s no way around it,” Wilmsmeyer said. One of the port’s projects is to connect the two inner harbors via short-line railway, to provide shippers more flexibility in the event of a lock shutdown. “It’s not an easy project to permit, but connecting the two harbors by rail is essential for our future growth,” he said.

Port KC Expansion

Port KC is unique, said president and CEO Jon Stephens, in that its defined limits include the entire city limits of Kansas City, Mo. It operates the Parson Port Bulk Terminal as well as an 1,800-acre former Air Force base and is also a redevelopment corporation, having redeveloped a 55-acre stretch of riverfront with 1,500 apartments. Port KC has recently announced $900 million in development, including grants from the Missouri legislature to build a new dock and roadways.

“The past year has seen incredible success in rail and trucking at the port, but we’ve seen record ag tonnage on the river as well,” he said. One state grant of $7 million went to grow dock facilities, while $50 million is targeted for a bulk port that will handle mostly ag products. He said the port is in the late stages of an application to the Surface Transportation Board for funding for improved open rail yards.

‘Just-In-Time’ To ‘Just-In-Case’

America’s Central Port and Port KC were among organizations submitting letters supporting Port NOLA’s container grant application. All three port directors stressed the integrated and interconnecting nature of the waterways system, with the success of one contributing to the success of the others.

Stephens said that the supply chain experienced shocks in the wake of COVID-19, and that shippers were moving to avoid them in the future. He said, “We need to share that supply-chain resiliency is critical and make sure that the disruptions and bottlenecks that might happen don’t become too critical, as cargo movements shift from ‘just-in-time’ to ‘just-in-case.’”