Corps’ high ranking, new investments bode well for ports

p09 portsSpecial to the Illinois Business Journal
    Data from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reveals 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.
    Inland ports included in the analysis are defined as not being located on an ocean and do not have any foreign tonnage.
    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, which ranked No. 2 with 286,000 tons per mile. The port of Huntington-Tristate, W.Va., ranked a distant No. 3, moving 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 had 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 USACE, the 70-mile St. Louis regional port system represents only 8 percent of this 855-mile section of the river, yet carried 39 percent of the 2016 freight.
    “These latest numbers go beyond reinforcing a key stretch of our port system as the Ag Coast of America; they underscore the St. Louis region’s critical role in the nation’s freight network,” said Mary Lamie, executive director of the St. Louis Regional Freightway. “Continuing investments in the St. Louis region’s ports and river terminals have created a highly competitive shipper and carrier market featuring greater efficiencies and lower costs.”
    Overall, as of 2017, St. Louis was the third-largest inland port by total tonnage. While the region’s ports and terminals are widely recognized for their role in moving agricultural products, waterborne freight moving through the region is actually more diversified than the average inland port. As of 2016, soybeans, corn and cement were the top three commodities by waterborne tonnage (48 percent of all tonnage). Looking at just inbound commodities, as of 2016, coal and nitrogen fertilizer were the commodities with the greatest inbound flow by water to St. Louis, accounting for 34 percent.
    “That bodes well for the region as the diversity within our commodity flows, and the ability of the freight network to handle that diversity, means that even as coal continues trending down, the St. Louis port system should still fare well,” said Lamie.
    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 that will include two barge docks. Each dock will be served by a 60-inch conveyor belt.  Construction should be completed this summer.
    Italgrani owns a four-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. While Italgrani remains 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 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. 

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