Metro-East News

Leadership Council says region could be a freight leader

The "State of Freight" forum in Collinsville

Presentation to business and civic leaders labels freight a "sleeping giant" for economy
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Presentation to business and civic leaders labels freight a "sleeping giant" for economy

The St. Louis region has the ability to be a key distribution center for freight, local engineers said Thursday.

The Leadership Council Southwestern Illinois, at a meeting Thursday in Collinsville, presented findings of study on freight transportation in the region.

Madison County Board Chairman Alan Dunstan said freight is the future of the county.

“This is a hub ...we have everything we need to make this the freight district of the world,” he said. “I think logistics is our future.”

Other speakers included Mark Harms, the Leadership Council Southwestern Illinois Transportation Enhancement Committee chairman; Sara Clark of Transystems, former U.S. Rep. Jerry Costello and Mary Lamie, who leads Bi-State Development’s regional freight district, whose goal is to increase job growth and help improve the local economy.

Among those in attendance included chamber of commerce officials, railroad officials, engineers, municipal officials, engineers, real estate officials, transportation department representatives, and port district officials.

Lamie said peer freight cities are out-marketing the St. Louis region.

“It wasn’t until the last couple of years we put a list together of identifying what our regional assets were,” Lamie said. “If we as a region didn’t have a good handle of what our logistic advantages were, it’s really hard for people from outside this area to understand what our logistic advantages are, what are transportation costs are.”

“Through the freight district, we’re going to take all that information … and help brand the St. Louis region, so people outside this area start recognizing we’re a freight hub, and when they want to know what we have to offer, we have that information readily available,” Lamie added.

Clark said the St. Louis region is the lowest-cost option for shippers. The region’s five airports provide an opportunity to ship perishable goods via air, Clark added.

During the presentation, Clark discussed opportunities for advancing investment in freight, logistics and transportation in the area.

The study calls for the promotion of Southwestern Illinois as a premier Midwest freight hub, increased investment in the transportation network for more reliable shipments, building on long-standing success in bulk and break-bulk transload services, targeting growth in regional distribution centers and manufacturing, promoting the benefits of the region for e-commerce, and capturing growth from emerging trends.

“These opportunities should act as critical action items to pursue in the next three to five years,” Clark said. “It will be important to identify champions for each action to provide initial support for implementation.”

Lamie also said part of her role with the freight district would be coordinating projects as well as identifying projects and funding sources.

“That’s where we’ll be working with (departments of transportation), East-West Gateway and all of our business partners to promote that project, make the case to decision-makers on the funding on why it’s critical we fund that,” Lamie said. “Part of what we want to focus on is, not only is it important from an infrastructure needs perspective, but we want to justify it from an economic development perspective, and how it relates to freight industry.”

Lamie discussed the need for updating and increasing rail capacity on the centuries-old Merchants Bridge, and the need for widening the Interstate 270 bridge over the Mississippi River at the Chain of Rocks.

The study compared the St. Louis region to six other “peer” cities, including Kansas City, Memphis, Nashville, Louisville, Indianapolis and Columbus, Ohio. They were considered to be representative of market competition for the region.

When compared to these peer cities, St. Louis is the largest freight hub with significant presence of all transportation modes, St. Louis is tied with Indianapolis and Columbus as the best location for manufacturing, and St. Louis is second as the top location for warehousing and distribution.

According to the study, the St. Louis region had the lowest cost option for shippers, when compared to the peer cities.

The area also is within a three-day truck drive of anywhere in the continental United States.

The study was paid for with a grant of up to $180,000 from the Illinois Department of Transportation, along with a 20 percent match from the Leadership Council.

“We have a lot of freight infrastructure in place to support our manufacturing base,” Harms said. “We can leverage those assets, and make some improvements to minimize congestion, to support the freight activities and other manufacturers who may want to locate here, based on location and resources we’ve got. There’s opportunity here, because we have abundant, available, developable land, so the opportunities exist for us to grow.”

Contact reporter Joseph Bustos at jbustos@bnd.com or 618-239-2451. Follow him on Twitter: @JoeBReporter.

Learn more

To read the Southwestern Illinois Freight Transportation Study, go to leadershipcouncilswil.com and click on “Resources.”

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