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    Ports and rail hubs around America are gearing up for the completion of expansion of the Panama Canal, and the Southwestern Illinois area is among them.
    Intermodal facilities each hope to take advantage of the likely surge of freight movement.
    “I don’t have a crystal ball and there are a lot of different opinions as to where that growth will take place. But I’m going to say there are regions in the Midwest that are going to benefit from the Panama Canal,” said Mary Lamie, executive director of the St. Louis Regional Freightway.
    The Panama Canal expansion should be completed by May although the date has been pushed back several times. The project is intended to double the capacity of the canal by creating a new lane of traffic and allowing more and larger ships — about 1.5 times the current maximum width and length — that can carry over twice as much cargo.
    The project will feature two new sets of locks, one each on the Atlantic and Pacific sides, and newly excavated channels to the new locks. It is the largest volume of work done on the canal since it originally opened in 1914.
    Lamie is certain the Midwest can play a role.
    “We’ve got the capacity on the Mississippi River. And we’ve got facilities like America’s Central Port with the (new South) harbor in place and the right equipment to pick up the containers off the barges and move them from freight rail to a truck,” Lamie said.
    The St. Louis Regional Freightway represents the interests of all three ports in the region, the other two being the Port of Metropolitan St. Louis and its Municipal River Terminal, operated by the city of St. Louis, and the Jefferson County (Mo.) Port Authority.

O’Fallon hopes to rehab some history

    O’FALLON — A city that can crow about plenty of new development in recent years is hoping to draw interest in one of its oldest landmarks.
    Bids are being opened in March on the proposed redevelopment of Old City Hall at 200 N. Lincoln Ave.
    It’s the first attempt in modern times to do something with one of the city’s most historic structures — a building that has sat mostly vacant for years. The city moved to its current City Hall in 1997.
    “It’s been used on and off for storage and some ancillary offices but right now there’s no one in there and it’s really only being used for storage,” said Community Development Director Ted Shekell.
    Van Reiss and Sons built the Old City Hall in 1890 at a cost of $4,136. It is on the southwest corner of what was a public park that occupied the block bordered by Lincoln and Washington streets. The two-story brick building was constructed on a rock foundation and had a tin roof, tall brick chimneys and a bell tower with steeple.
    The building was authorized by the town council and was known as the Town Hall and Opera House. Police, fire and jail facilities were housed there, and residents enjoyed social gatherings including operettas, which were popular at that time.
    Latter-year upgrades covered over some of the historic flavor.
    “Interestingly, the old upper story where the council chambers used to be is vintage 1970s, the dark paneling, the dropped tile ceiling,” Shekell said. “If paneling and dropped ceilings ever become of historical value, we’ve got it made.”
    Pictures from the 1950s show the original ceiling as a round, vaulted, theater-style ceiling. Presumably it’s still there, above the present-day dropped tile.
    “It’s a great old building, iconic to O’Fallon history,” Shekell said. “The city has kicked around some ideas through the years but it’s going to take some money. It really needs to be sandblasted, tuckpointed and opened up on the inside. The City Council and the mayor felt like it’s just sitting here and they wanted to see what the private sector could do.”
    As of late last month, there were no solid offers on the property but there were a lot of expressions of interest, and surrounding businesses are thrilled with the prospects. The Old City Hall sits one block off the Downtown corridor, where a lot of money has been invested on older properties in recent years.

p01 lebanon mayorWilken    LEBANON — Mayor Richard Wilken is stepping up efforts on a project that he believes will cement his town’s spot on the map.
    Wilken is wanting to build the economic base of his city by taking a lot of the traffic out of it. He’s pushing hard for the completion of a state-supported bypass of U.S. Route 50. That effort may take convincing some locals, since the road cuts through the heart of their community.
    Lebanon is a quaint, historic town of 4,400 people in the northeast corner of St. Clair County. Its main business streets are Illinois Route 4 and U.S. Route 50. For the most part, it’s a pass-through town, with commuters needing to get from one point to another — but not to Lebanon itself.
    Route 4 is important from a traffic standpoint. It is the north-south connection between three interstates — 55, 70 and 64. And Lebanon is the only city located on Route 4 in that 27-mile stretch.
    But U.S. 50 is the bugaboo. It’s an east-west highway that doesn’t run east-west in Lebanon. Coming from O’Fallon on the west, the highway stops at Route 4 and turns to the north (running concurrent with Route 4) for a few blocks. It  then comes to a traffic-light intersection before turning again, heading east toward Breese and Clinton County.
    All that turning creates a bottleneck that has long been a bane for commuters and truckers.
    Wilken wants to take the north-south leg of 50 out of the equation and build a bypass that would make Route 50 run entirely through the city’s southern flank, continuing east until it hooks up to the current Illinois 50 about a mile east of Lebanon, near Summerfield Road.
p01 lebanonA car, left, stops on U.S. 50 to await a southbound truck on Illinois Route 4 in Lebanon. A future bypass could move the 50 alignment south of the railroad tracks pictured here. The bypass would eventually connect with 50’s current alignment east of Lebanon.    The change would solve two basic concerns. It would alleviate much of the traffic that now maneuvers the intersection of Route 4 and U.S. 50. And it would satisfy a larger effort of the U.S. Route 50 Coalition Group, a group of mayors who are dedicated to making Route 50 a four-lane highway across Southern Illinois.
    U.S. 50 runs “ocean to ocean,” Wilken said, and one of its biggest bottlenecks is his city.
    “For years, (others) have tried to get Lebanon to be a part of the bypass idea, but the former administration didn’t want anything to do with a bypass,” he said. “Many businesses also didn’t want a bypass implemented because it would take traffic away from existing businesses.”
    But Wilken, who owns an insurance agency office located within feet of the Route 4 and U.S. 50 intersection, said it would be better for business to get the big trucks away from the heart of town.

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    ALTON – Simmons Hanly Conroy, one of the country’s leading mesothelioma law firms, has renewed its platinum sponsorship, donating $100,000 to the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization and its “Where Knowledge and Action Unite” conference. The firm is the longest consecutive sponsor of the conference.
    The 12th Annual International Asbestos Awareness Conference will take place Friday, April 8, through Sunday, April 10, in Washington, D.C., at the Crystal Gateway Marriott. More than 35 experts and asbestos victims from seven countries will present the latest advancement in disease prevention, global advocacy and treatment options for mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases.
    The main goal of the annual conference is to prevent exposure to asbestos and eliminate asbestos-related diseases. Asbestos exposure can cause mesothelioma, lung cancer and other diseases like asbestosis and pleural plaques.
    Asbestos is still found in America’s homes and offices. Asbestos expert, Dr. Barry Castleman states: “Major asbestos exposure continues today in building renovation, demolition and maintenance and automotive brake repair.”
    Since 2005, the annual ADAO conference has brought together more than 300 speakers, experts, victims and lawmakers from 14 different countries, to present on asbestos education, advocacy and awareness.
    “The Asbestos Disease Organization is extremely grateful for the support of Simmons Hanly Conroy and its sponsorship of our annual asbestos awareness conference,” said ADAO Co-founder and President Linda Reinstein. “The dedicated and generous support of Simmons Hanly Conroy allows us to continue doing critical work to spread awareness about the dangers of asbestos, advocate for a global asbestos ban and support the community of asbestos disease victims.”
    Simmons Hanly Conroy has a long-standing commitment to supporting those impacted by asbestos-related diseases. Since 1999, the firm has donated more than $20 million to cancer research, including millions of dollars to mesothelioma research institutions. This is the fourth year the firm has been a platinum sponsor of ADAO and the conference.
    “Mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases are preventable,” said Simmons Hanly Conroy Chairman John Simmons. “Our asbestos attorneys have seen the devastating effects of a mesothelioma diagnosis on our clients and their families. We know that big businesses constantly used asbestos, choosing profits over people, in spite of knowing the dangers. ADAO’s work to prevent and eliminate mesothelioma and other asbestos-related cancers is critical, and our firm is honored to have a role in helping them with this goal.”  
    The conference begins that Friday with a private tour, invitation only, of Washington, D.C., for patients and their families. Sessions begin Saturday morning and last throughout the day. Topics include medical advancements and current challenges; personal stories; prevention of exposure; and the global ban on asbestos-action. Before lunch, Paul Brodeur, an awarding-winning investigative journalist and author of "Expendable Americans and Outrageous Misconduct: The Asbestos Industry on Trial," will give a keynote speech.
    “We are delighted to have the award-winning journalist Paul Brodeur as our keynote speaker,” Reinstein said. “His work provides an objective look into the history of corporate knowledge of asbestos and shows they knew the dangers of asbestos, but remained silent. His keynote speech, along with many of our other decorated speakers, illustrates the on-going human cost of inaction.”
    The day will end with an awards and recognition dinner to honor advocates of asbestos victims. The final conference event on Sunday morning is the Unity and Remembrance Brunch in memory of those who have passed away from asbestos-related diseases, with Keynote Speaker: Dr. Eudice Goldberg, pediatrician in the Division of Adolescent Medicine at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto and co-founder of the Canadian Mesothelioma Foundation, Canada.
    “ADAO’s 2016 conference will recognize leaders in the media, health and safety community, and government agencies whose voices and actions have been critically important to efforts to end the man-made asbestos disaster,” Reinstein said. “This year’s esteemed list also includes many courageous volunteers who tirelessly give of their time to help build a global community of support and hope.”
    To learn more about the conference, visit www.asbestosdiseaseawareness.org.
About Simmons Hanly Conroy, LLC

    Simmons Hanly Conroy LLC is one of the nation’s largest mass tort law firms. The firm’s attorneys have recovered more than $5 billion in verdicts and settlements for individuals in asbestos-related litigation, including the largest-ever U.S. verdict ($250 million) for a single plaintiff. The firm’s contributions to cancer research and ongoing support includes its annual Miles for Meso 5K race. The firm also represents plaintiffs nationwide in pharmaceutical litigation, consumer protection, environmental litigation, contingent-fee commercial litigation, and personal injury cases. Offices are located in New York City, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, St. Louis, and Alton, Ill. Read more at simmonsfirm.com.