By ALAN J. ORTBALS
The St. Louis region will be in the national spotlight the week of May 20 as an innovator in freight transportation and for the assets that continue to elevate its standing as a world-class freight hub and multimodal center.
More than 2,000 people involved in freight and logistics will be converging in St. Louis from across the country for FreightWeekSTL. Organized by the St. Louis Regional Freightway, it has been built around – and in partnership with – the annual Inland Marine Expo, which runs from May 20 to 23 at The Dome at America’s Center.
For Mary Lamie, executive director of the St. Louis Regional Freightway, the goal for FreightWeekSTL remains the same as it goes into its second year: advance the St. Louis region as an innovator and leader in multimodal freight opportunities.
“For FreightWeekSTL, we want to take advantage of the tremendous audience of shippers and carriers who are coming to downtown St. Louis and introduce them to the incredible benefits our region has to offer,” Lamie said. “We also incorporate some of the innovative trends with freight movement and highlight our role with growth opportunities in the international freight and logistics marketplace, including new services and industry-shifting technical ideas we’re working on with our partners.”
Among the sessions currently scheduled for FreightWeekSTL are a look at new container-on-vessel services that would use an innovative, cost-effective vehicle for moving freight on the inland waterways system, and a special riverboat tour of the Mississippi River focused on regional freight infrastructure.
Other regional organizations are also participating in FreightWeekSTL. The East-West Gateway Council of Governments will host a conference with the National Highway Institute to look at freight modeling, the Women’s Transportation Seminar will join the Missouri and Illinois Departments of Transportation to explore infrastructure investment and the Interstate 270 expansion project, and the Transportation Club of St. Louis will host a networking event. On May 23, the St. Louis Regional Freightway will hold an industry forum featuring keynote speaker John D. Trent, senior director of Strategic Operations at the Georgia Ports Authority.
“Over the last two years, we have partnered with the Port of New Orleans and the Port of Plaquemines from southern Louisiana to develop stronger connections to the global markets through the Gulf of Mexico and Panama Canal,” Lamie said. “We have a couple of new developments in the queue as a result of those efforts, and moving forward, we’re building relationships with the East Coast ports including the Ports of Savannah (Ga.), Norfolk (Va.) and New York/New Jersey.”
For St. Louis Regional Freightway, the goal of these new partnerships is to take advantage of the strong rail connectivity between the Midwest and East Coast, which includes the Norfolk Southern and the CSX railroads. The Port of Savanah has a $3 billion infrastructure program underway that will double its rail capacity and ability to handle an expected increase of containerized cargo coming into ports throughout the country.
“By developing these relationships, we can better position the St. Louis region to support our coastal ports as they look for partners to help them move containers and freight into the interior of the nation,” Lamie said.
With FreightWeekSTL, the St. Louis Regional Freightway looks to shine a brighter light on the St. Louis region on both the national and international stage. But at the same time, it remains focused on critical projects and initiatives in the bi-state area that support the region’s freight network, attract new businesses and keep freight moving efficiently through the St. Louis region every day.
Lamie said one of the top priorities for 2019 is to build on the success of securing more than $440 million in funding for infrastructure improvements, including the rehabilitation and reconstruction of the Interstate 270 Chain of Rocks Bridge and the Merchants Bridge, which both span the Mississippi River, rail improvements at America’s Central Port and along Terminal Railroad Association of St. Louis tracks in St. Clair County and improvements to Interstate 270 at Illinois Route 111.
Efforts to fully fund the expansion of Interstate 270 from the Mississippi River to Illinois Route 157 are ongoing, as are those to secure funding for improvements to Illinois Route 111 and Chain of Rocks Road.
“This section of I-270 has experienced almost 50 percent of the region’s total new industrial real estate construction. A key driver of this growth is the easy access to the interstate and an uninterrupted flow of goods and services,” Lamie said. “These improvements will reduce truck bottlenecks, improve traffic flows and make the region an even more attractive place for manufacturers and new business.”
Another project ranking high on the St. Louis Regional Freightway’s infrastructure priority list for 2019 is a new interchange at Davis Street Ferry Road and Interstate 255 in Dupo. The $53 million project already has a $20 million funding commitment, and the proposed interchange would improve the movement of heavy truck volume traveling through Dupo and to the nearby Union Pacific Railroad intermodal yard.
“The region’s intermodal yards are considered one of our greatest freight assets, providing flexibility of loading and unloading goods and reduced handling costs,” Lamie said. “The Davis Street Ferry Road interchange project would also open the doors for the Union Pacific yard to grow and expand.”
Lamie said more and more companies are taking advantage of the freight and logistics assets the St. Louis region has to offer.
“It can take up to three days for a train to travel through Chicago,” Lamie said. “Shippers are starting to reroute their freight to the St. Louis region and are enjoying the benefits of lower distribution costs, shorter travel and turnaround times, less rail congestion, incredible interstate access, large barge loading facilities, flexibility and adaptability, and competitive rates across all modes.”
The St. Louis Regional Freightway is one of the enterprises operated by Bi-State Development, and both entities are focused on how to sustain the St. Louis Regional Freightway operation.
“We have a successful business venture here, and our freight district continues to gain momentum,” said Taulby Roach, president and chief executive officer of Bi-State Development. “Looking ahead, we are focused on strengthening the connections to all of the individual leaders and counties in our region to ensure we have the financial resources necessary for The Freightway to continue to enhance and grow the freight economy of the bi-state area. That’s our job.”
By ALAN J. ORTBALS